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First, a status update- The strike spread to the west coast overnight, and 20 and counting  of Hostess Brands 36 bakeries are now down and their ovens going cold, assuming anyone bothered to shut them off. Out of action are 6 of Hostess 7 cake bakeries and the only bakeries still baking are some older low volume plants. Hostess is pretty much out of business, and thanks to top management being Missing in Action, maybe for good.

On the ingredient side, a high speed bakery will consume a railcar of flour a day and even an older traditional bakery will go through a semi trailer load or so a day. Moving that flour from the mills to Hostess bakeries takes several days and even weeks, so normally there's a few trainloads of flour in transit to Hostess bakeries. That's several million dollars in flour that may never become bread if Hostess execs stay MIA from the bargaining table. That's the big stuff- there's also truckloads of sugar, fruit purees, etc. in inventory, off site storage, and en route that has to be paid for whether it gets used or not. There also a bunch of storage charges from warehouses that store these ingredients until the Hostess bakeries need them. And unless Hostess execs come out of hiding and tell the railroads otherwise, the railroads will send a crew and locomotives over to Hostess bakery rail sidings with fresh railcars of flour, assuming they'll be needed and empty railcars will need to be pulled out of the way and returned to the flour mill. The railroads don't like making these trips for nothing- locomotive fuel use is measured in gallons per mile- and they'll charge Hostess a couple hundred dollars a railcar "switch charges" when they find full railcars still in the siding and no place to put the full railcars they've just bought. Then starts the "demurrage charges" that railcar owners collect when the railcars aren't unloaded in an agreed time period, typically 48 hours.

And inside the bakeries, who knows what's happening? As you can imagine, a bakery that can go through a 200,000 pound railcar load of flour a day doesn't do anything small. Doughs are prepared in massive troughs and ones that doesn't pass inspection will fill a twenty foot long dumpster. Then it keeps growing... Hauling one to the disposal site is often an adventure with stops every couple of miles to pierce the dough's ever growing "bubble" so the truck will fit under the bridges! Imagine what that rising dough would do inside a bakery while execs are MIA... Then consider that a bunch of other baking processes like ovens and conveyors may still be running with no human intervention. A high speed bakery line left running unattended will cover the bakery floor with enough bread to fill one of those big 20 foot dumpsters in ten minutes. Now a bakery has to meet a lot of sanitary standards, and if Hostess execs just went MIA and left their bakeries littered with doughs and unwrapped breads and such, the cleanup before baking could resume could take weeks and cost millions. Historically, the unions have allowed one operating engineer through the picket lines during a strike so the bakery could be properly shut down and kept ready for baking to resume when the strike is over... I have no indication that Hostess MIA execs took advantage of that offer.

The bread normally leaves the bakery in semi sized transport trucks and is hauled to depots where it is transferred to smaller bakery vans for delivery to local stores and such. To my knowledge, the picket lines have not been extended to those depots and the Teamsters who drive the route vans will show up and punch in as scheduled early tomorrow morning, unless the MIA Hostess execs show up and settle up with the bakers. For example, the strike hasn't been extended to the Waterloo, Iowa Hostess bakery. With several other Hostess bakeries around it-Davenport, Rochester, Minneapolis, Sioux City, and Omaha-having been closed and the properties mostly profitably sold off, Waterloo can't keep up with the demand and gets help from the Hostess bakeries in Chicago, Peoria, St.Louis, Kansas City, etc.. But all those bakeries are on strike so the transport drivers will be running near empty trucks at 5 miles per gallon tonight to deliver what little loads of bread that the Waterloo bakery can produce. The loaders will punch in 'round midnight and the drivers a few hours later to deliver what little bread Waterloo can bake and pick up stale bread. Those drivers are half the Hostess payroll and can't just be told to stay home without pay- by contract they get paid for 40 hours whether the trucks roll or not, to the tune of a couple million dollars a day.

So with twenty odd mega bakeries in questionable condition, millions of dollars in wages, storage charges, demurrage charges, switching charges, utility costs, and just plain old overhead due every day, you'd think Hostess Brands execs would be on the job, settling the strike, or at least blowing out near hourly PR flack in hopes of lowering worker morale. Last we heard from Hostess MIA top management was a press release two days ago after the first bakery was struck, and the strike has spread to 20 bakeries now. One would think that Hostess execs would have been on duty in their Texas executive offices, safely removed a couple hundred miles from their nearest bakery, in firm command of the situation from their "war room". But Nooo... Hostess Brands top management is Missing In Action. Will they leave suppliers and shippers with a millions of pounds of ingredients and dollars of unpaid bills? Will Hostess MIA execs leave their bakeries abandoned to be the scene of massive "science experiments" gone bad? Will utilities be stiffed and governments be stuck with the cost of cleanup? Will grocers be stuck with the cost of disposing of stale bread and display racks left abandoned in their stores? Hostess Brands is hemorrhaging millions of dollars a day, ain't worth that many millions, and has anybody seen where top management went?

Perhaps the workers will have to move back into the bakeries to save them...

Originally posted to RuralRoute on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 10:50 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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