Who tried to kill off Twinkies?

“Not us,” say the 18,500 voices of the Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain International Union that went on strike Nov. 9, 2012, against the Hostess Co. that had been making Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho-Hos and chocolate cupcakes for 82 years, as well as the basic Wonder Bread.

An article in the Nation Magazine, as written by the noted John Nichols, joined the union’s cry of primary innocence in the bankruptcy and final closing of the company.

Nichols wrote, “The unions didn’t ask for more pay or benefits and concessions during Hostess’s last round in bankruptcy court, which ended in 2009.” Nichols writes in further explanation that “Hostess was smashed by vulture capitalism” who had loaded the company with debt and millions of dollars in fees and by “incompetent managers” who gave themselves huge raises as the company failed. The CEO who had led the company back into bankruptcy in early 2012 “got a 300 percent pay raise, even while the company stopped contributing to workers’ pension funds,” wrote Jake Blumgart, on salon.com, adding “to add insult to injury was the bankruptcy judge’s permission to pay $1.75 million in executive bonuses.”

“I am not responsible,” says the CEO, Gregory Rayburn, and 19 other executives of Hostess. It was said in an Associated Press interview by Candace Choi that the money was needed for the company’s wind-down process that would take a year. Two of the executives would be paid additional money, depending on how efficiently they carry out the liquidation. The bonuses do not include Rayburn, who was brought in as a restructuring expert and is being paid $125,000 a month.

“The bankruptcy is not my fault,” said an unnamed member of the bakers union in Lenoxa, Kan., in a Racine Journal Times editorial. He admitted that he was earning $48,000 in 2005, before the company’s first bankruptcy. During the reorganization, his pay was cut to $34,000, with an hourly pay of $16.32. He said further that the latest contract would cut his pay to $25,000, and it would include significantly higher insurance costs to him.

“Don’t blame me, please,” murmured first lady Michelle Obama, who has embarked on a nutritional program to fight childhood obesity. In her support, James Suronwiecki wrote, on newyorker.com, that the death of the Twinkies was due to the fact that Americans’ diet was responsible. Adding to that thought, Josh Sanburn, on time.com, wrote that “the Hostess corporation and its high and tempting caloric sweets” got stuck somewhere in the 1960s and that all the sweets will continue to survive among the old eating habits of choosing food that tastes great but provides very little healthy nutrition.

It probably will continue even after the first lady appeared and “out jumped” Dr. Oz with a skipping rope on one of his recent television programs.

An AP release on Dec. 9 headlined that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of Congress in a letter that the school food programs will allow more grains and meat within the new standards for more nutritious, wholesome school food programs. More fresh fruit and vegetables were not mentioned, although the new government school food guidelines were intended to combat childhood obesity.

As a closing, don’t despair about the disappearance of Twinkies. An AP news release on Nov. 30 was headlined, “Court gives final approval of wind-down process. The future of Twinkies is virtually assured.” Hostess Brands got final approval for its wind-down plans in bankruptcy court, setting the stage for its iconic snack cakes to find a second life. The company said in court that it’s in talks with 110 potential buyers for its brands that include Twinkies, Cup Cakes, Ding Dongs and Ho-Hos.

“The suitors include at least five national retailers such as supermarkets. ... Six of the potential buyers are serious ... and are expecting to spend substantial sums and have hired investment banks to help in the process.”

Meanwhile, keep looking for the return of Twinkies to the Portage supermarket shelves. I, too, forget this lack of nutrition as I enjoy their gooey sweetness, and whether the unions, the CEOs or the change in diets was responsible for their temporary death.

And as a postscript, seek information from more than one media source, and then make decisions.

Blanche Murtagh is a longtime Portage resident and activist who has had many of her stories published.

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