There wasn’t a Twinkie to be found on the shelf at a local grocery store this past weekend. Fourteen eBay bidders drove the price for a box of 10 up to $15 on Tuesday. It’s a shame that this booming consumer demand was set off by news that Hostess Brands will be liquidating and that it wasn’t the norm prior to last week’s announcement.
But as the rest of the world makes punchlines out of Twinkies, Ho Hos and Ding Dongs, the liquidation has very real consequences in Rocky Mount, where nearly 300 people are losing their jobs at a local Merita Bread plant because of the decision by Merita’s parent company, Hostess.
The reasons for liquidating are complicated, and depend somewhat on whether you side with management or organized labor. Picketers at the Rocky Mount plant cited big-dollar bonuses and raises paid to company executives at the expense of wage and benefit cuts for the bakers and other workers. Conservative business journals noted that Hostess has some 372 labor contracts in place, making negotiations a complicated nightmare of stipulations.
Still others suggested, sensibly, that declining consumer demand probably had as much to do with the financial problems Hostess has endured as much as anything. The company has declared bankruptcy twice since 2004.
Some analysts speculate that the snack cakes are too iconic to disappear. As Hostess liquidates, other companies might be interested in picking up the product lines. With a great amount of luck, perhaps a new owner will see a need to bring a bakery in Rocky Mount back online.
It’s hard to think of a worse time for a plant employing 286 workers to close here. Sanderson Farms announced last week that it would not build a poultry processing plant in Nash County. Regardless of how you might feel about the controversial prospects of Sanderson, the company had planned to hire 1,100 workers for the Nash County site. The unemployment rate here has only recently dipped below 12 percent.
U.S. manufacturing continues to suffer a beating at the hands of cheap foreign competitors. The Merita closing is only the most recent casualty.
There can be only one priority for any elected leader in Eastern North Carolina these days: Jobs.