Posted: 11:48 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16, 2012

Orlando's Merita Bread could shut down following Hostess bankruptcy filing

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ORLANDO, Fla. —

About 300 workers at the Merita Bread plant in Orlando may soon be out of a job after the Hostess company filed for bankruptcy last week.

Merita Bread is produced by Hostess brands, and a small group of workers are on strike.

The store remains open for now, but with Hostess filing for bankruptcy, officials said the store may soon close.

Hostess, also the maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, is going out of business, closing plants, laying off its 18,500 workers and putting its brands up for sale.

The Irving, Texas-based company said a nationwide worker strike crippled its ability to make and deliver its products. Its brands also include Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Dolly Madison.

Hostess had warned employees that it would file a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to dissolve its business and sell assets if plant operations didn't return to normal levels by Thursday evening.

Workers in Orlando said they have been on strike since Saturday. They said they're not trying to get more money or benefits, but simply trying to hold on to what they currently have.

The workers said that since 2004, they have made concession after concession, and can't do it anymore.

Because of the strike, Hostess said it's closing down its factories and laying off thousands of employees.

Hostess has said that production at about a dozen of the company's 33 plants was seriously affected by the strike, and three plants were closed earlier this week.

"It's a shock to me because they're saying Merita Bread is closing down, and that's not right," said customer Jovan Gray.

Union officials told WFTV they plan to make a statement later Friday.

Hostess filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than a decade.

"Many people have worked incredibly long and hard to keep this from happening, but now Hostess Brands has no other alternative than to begin the process of winding down and preparing for the sale of our iconic brands," CEO Gregory F. Rayburn said in a letter to employees posted on the company website.

He added that all employees will eventually lose their jobs, "some sooner than others."

Thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike last week after rejecting in September a contract offer that cut wages and benefits. Hostess had already reached a contract agreement with its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The company, founded in 1930, was fighting battles beyond labor costs. Competition is increasing in the snack space and Americans are increasingly conscious about healthy eating. Hostess also makes Drake's and Nature's Pride snacks.

Despite the struggles of Merita and Hostess, unemployment figures show October had the lowest jobless rate in four years.

The Orlando area was at 7.9 percent, down 2 percent from October 2011 and down .5 percent from September 2012.

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