The Right Opinion

Taking Down Twinkies

By Edwin J. Feulner · Nov. 20, 2012

Twinkies are selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Union membership has been dropping steadily over the past decade.

Sound unrelated? They aren't. The fate of the popular spongecake was in the hands of the unionized men and women who work for Hostess Brands Inc.

Or perhaps I should say “worked” – past tense. A union-backed strike has killed what the Great Depression couldn't. Hostess announced last week that it was suspending operations and would be laying off more than 18,000 employees. (News came late Monday that both sides had agreed to a mediation.)

The union in question – the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International – doesn't deserve all the blame. Hostess has struggled financially for years, losing $341 million last year alone. It didn't have to end this way.

The company was, in fact, making cuts to stay competitive amid a tough economy and changing eating habits. These cuts, however, angered the unions that represented Hostess workers: the bakers union and the Teamsters. Their protests led to the strike that has now dealt the company its final blow.

Union leaders are blaming poor management for the company's demise, but that explanation doesn't hold up. The Teamsters examined the books and reluctantly agreed to accept the cuts. The bakers union held out in a myopic and self-defeating demand for more. Now, instead of having less, they have nothing.

This is how unions often operate in the 21st-century economy. They function like an albatross around a company's neck – making it less flexible, less able to react wisely to the demands of a changing marketplace. An inherent suspicion of management leads them to refuse to accept good-faith offers that would benefit everyone, management and labor alike. As a result, unionized companies make less, invest less and create fewer jobs than nonunion companies. The “us versus them” attitude winds up taking down the whole team.

As Heritage labor analyst James Sherk points out, this is a major reason why union membership keeps falling. Unions keep losing members as existing unionized firms shrink, and they can't recruit enough new members to take their place. This year, union membership hit another record low: 11.2 percent. In the private sector, just 6.6 percent of workers belong to unions.

Union leaders have not shown any inclination to change their destructive ways. Examples such as the way the Teamsters reacted – agreeing to necessary cuts – in the case of Hostess remain the exception. Rather than reform to adapt to the modern economy, unions instead are trying to boost membership, making it tougher for workers to avoid unionizing.

Worse, they have the full backing of the Obama administration. The president enthusiastically campaigned in favor of the “Employee Free Choice Act” – an Orwellian title for something that would replace the current system of private ballots. Workers would be forced to cast their votes about whether or not to unionize with publicly signed cards, making it easier for union leaders to harass and pressure workers who refuse to vote the “correct” way.

The National Labor Relations Board has gotten in on the act as well. “The NLRB just changed its rules to enable unions to cherry-pick who votes in union elections,” Mr. Sherk writes. “At one New York department store, unions recently formed a unit representing only women's shoe associates on the second and fifth floors. None of the 300 other employees in the store got to vote.”

Yet if that union's actions take down the entire company – as Hostess workers have now found out the hard way – who gets hurt? Everyone, members and nonmembers alike.

Workers should be allowed to unionize if they like. But it should be a free and private choice, made in a nonthreatening atmosphere. The government should not deprive workers of a secret-ballot vote because union leaders might not like the outcome.

Thousands of bakery workers are out of a job. Hundred-dollar Twinkies pop up on eBay. Unless today's unions want to see more of this kind of thing, they may want to try a new recipe.

10 Comments

wjm in Colorado said:

They get their just Deserts! FORWARD!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 9:33 AM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY replied:

I usually don't use this term but ROFLMAO,,,,well said.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 6:15 PM

READY4ACHANGE in ILLINOIS said:

I would like to know what idiot would pay $100 for a frigging Twinkie??? You can get a generic version at the store for much cheaper if you want to clog your arteries. People are just idiots.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 9:41 AM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA replied:

"People are just idiots."

As the recent election proved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 7:39 PM

billy396 in ohio said:

I happen to work at one of the top 3 employers of union labor in America. The people who have been here for decades are, for the most part, completely brainwashed by the union. The union steals our money and donates it to Dems running for office instead of using it for "bargaining" purposes. Quite often, I'll get to the office and find a sheet of paper from the union lying on my desk. It invariably regurgitates the Left's talking points (Republicans are trying to destroy the middle class, Voter ID is an attempt to suppress minority votes, etc., etc., ad nauseam). When I try to explain the objective, easily proven FACTS to these people, (like all of the open lies and unconstitutional acts of Obongo), they act like the most important thing in the universe is how many pennies that each one of us gets. The future of this country doesn't matter to these people, or else they're simply unwilling to accept easily proven, objective facts, or both. I, for one, will probably lose my house when the company discontinues to offer health insurance and our prescription drug plan. Even if I were young and healthy, I wouldn't go along with commies. Make no mistake, this administration is pushing Communism, or nationist Socialism down the throats of every American citizen. I appeal to my co-workers who have children, "Don't you see what your kids and grand-kids will face because of your position?" They look back with a blank stare, or they try to claim "The country will be a "better" place. It's truly baffling that seemingly intelligent, rational people would disregard the future of their own offspring. I really don't believe that they're dumb enough to believe that taxes aren't going to soar, and inflation as well. It's just plain irrational. I can't help but see them as traitors to the country that I love.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

I saw a bumper sticker in my liberal neighborhood, that said UNION=JOBS; more propaganda from the left!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 5:36 PM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

Looks like mediation has failed. Hostess is continuing to liquidate.

Hostess Brands Inc, the bankrupt maker of Twinkies, said on Tuesday that it failed to reach a deal in mediation with the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union........

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/21/us-hostess-mediation-idUSBRE8AK00P20121121

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 10:41 PM

Capt. Call in New Mexico said:

It is sad to see so many people lose their jobs; but a business can only operate without profit for a short time -- pretty soon the bills begin to stack up, and the owners must choose to either starve or shut down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Rod in USA said:

*Workers should be allowed to unionize if they like. But it should be a free and private choice, made in a nonthreatening atmosphere. The government should not deprive workers of a secret-ballot vote because union leaders might not like the outcome.*

Well said.

There was reported outrage that top execs "were voting themselves payraises while the company filed for bankruptcy and trying to cut bakers' salaries by 8% and benefits by 32%."

A couple of thoughts on that: "Top executives" have typically invested the time, money and energy to educate themselves through schooling and experience. They have paid their dues and generally have more invested than a clock punching worker who considers his employment just that: "a job". It is an entirely different "labor market" than that of bakers and delivery workers because it requires different skills. One note not reported was that the top execs slashed their salary to $1, at least for the year (see snopes.com). Such stories are just an ettempt by the media to rally support for "the poor unions" against the "evil, greedy and rich management". It's class warefare at its core.

A better paradigm for Hostess and any company would be to "pay for performance" - individual performance and corporate performance.

People should be able to unionize at their discretion, but they need to think independently and logically, not emotionally.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 7:49 AM

Rod in USA said:

Also, if management shows the union the books and they still resist any effort to solve the problem, then the workers need a new union.

A strike by the union in such cases could be likened to striking against the consumers because who is going to pay the cost increases? The consumers. And if the consumers are not willing to pay it, they vote with their feet and your company goes bankrupt anyway.

A comparable example is occurring in sports, thoough the economics are different.

I am sickened by professional athletes striking like in the NHL, or last year's strike between players and owners. Who do the players think they are affecting with the strike? The reality is they are striking against the fans because owners have to make a profit so the costs of concessions get passed to the fans, Why do you think a hot dog costs $5 and a beer $8 at a sporting event? The owner has costs and has to raise prices to cover them. And to athletes making seven figure salaries for playing a game, $13 for a dog and a beer is nothing.

I might in a captive environment pay that cost for the dog and beer, or maybe I will eat before the game and just have a beer.

But faced with the cost of a $2 twinkie, I think I will get a $1 Zinger instead.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 7:57 AM