Losing a job just 10 days before Thanksgiving was a hard blow for Rick Marzuco and his family. But whats been even more frustrating? The truck driver blames his former employer, Hostess Brands, for undermining his job search.
Before hiring a commercial truck driver like Marzuco, a company needs to obtain and review drug and alcohol test records from the former employer. Thats required under federal law.
Since he was laid off, Marzuco has applied for 10 jobs that require a commercial drivers license and landed three interviews. Marzuco, 54, has been told by prospective employers that Hostess, his employer for a dozen years, hasnt promptly responded to requests for his records.
I had a job offer seven days after Hostess closed, and they had to fill the position with someone else, said Marzuco, who lives in Granite City, Ill. I have a perfect driving record and never failed a drug screen, and I havent been able to get a job because theyre not returning background checks.
Other laid-off Hostess drivers reported the same difficulty, although a Hostess spokesman says that the company is complying with the law and that he knew of no such problems.
The weeks following the closure of Hostess plants and retail stores have been a struggle for the employees who worked at the maker of snack cakes and bread, often for decades.
Many have had trouble finding jobs, and the problems are compounded by Hostess bankruptcy.
In Idaho, the Treasure Valley workers were employed at two distribution centers and four retail outlets.
Jeff Merlenbach, 47, a former Hostess truck driver who lives in Red Bud, Ill., said he has called the companys human resources number multiple times in recent weeks about $3,000 in vacation pay he says he is owed. But he doesnt think hell ever see the money.
They owed it to us and they refuse to pay us, Merlenbach said.
The company has said it cant pay workers for unused vacation time or severance because those funds werent approved by lenders as part of its wind-down plan.
Thousands of bakery workers, cashiers and truck drivers were suddenly out of work when Hostess announced in November that a weeklong strike by bakers had forced the maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread to close all 36 of its plants and 570 bakery outlet stores across the country.
The closure affected more than 18,000 workers, according to the company.
Hostess, which continues to staff its corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas, while the company winds down, disputes claims that there are processing delays for driver records.
Since we began the wind-down, all drug and alcohol screening verifications have been responded to within the 30-day (Department of Transportation) requirement, Hostess spokesman Erik Halvorson wrote in an email.
The companys current turnaround time for processing verifications is one to two business days, he continued, adding that he wasnt aware of any problems with delays.
UP FOR SALE
Hostess, which filed for bankruptcy a year ago, has been talking to former rivals and customers interested in buying its business.
On Friday night, Flowers Foods, the maker of breads and Tastykakes dessert cakes, offered the bankrupt company $360 million for key bread assets and brands, including Wonder and Home Pride. It also offered $30 million for the Beefsteak brand.
Under the proposed sale of the bread business, Flowers would get 20 bakeries and 38 depots or stores. The Flowers deal, which needs the bankruptcy judges approval, is conditional on Hostess receiving no higher bid from another party by the end of February.
Hostess also is narrowing down possible bidders for its venerable dessert cake business, which includes Twinkies and Ding Dongs.
Hostess isnt the only one trying to raise money. The job loss prompted Marzuco to sell one of the familys two cars the week before Christmas. The $1,500 didnt stretch far.
My whole existence relies on my checks, said Marzuco, who is his familys sole source of income. His wife, Sheila, stays home to care for their two grandchildren, ages 6 and 7, who live with the couple.
DIFFERENT UNION CONTRACTS
Hostess Brands faced financial difficulties for years. After emerging from its first bankruptcy in 2009, Hostess continued to struggle, reporting a net loss of $1.1 billion in its 2012 fiscal year.
Union truck drivers, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, approved their contract with Hostess in September, agreeing to salary reductions of up to 8 percent as part of the companys turnaround plan.
But the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union wouldnt agree to further concessions and initiated the strike in November.
Bakery workers, angry over concessions made in earlier contracts and bonuses promised to Hostess executives, contended that wage and benefit concessions were too steep after years without raises.
Some former Hostess workers have been critical of the bakers union for not accepting wage and other concessions. But their focus now is about moving forward.
It was financial mismanage-ment from the company. It wasnt the unions, said Merlenbach, a Teamsters member.
Hostess repeated ownership changes and trips through bankruptcy court gave many employees the sense that trouble was looming, said Debi Loewe. She worked for 13 years as a retail clerk at the Hostess store in Desloge, Mo.
At times, some employees wondered whether the stores doors would be locked for good when they arrived at work. We always had the motto that if the key fits, we work, she said.
The store, which served as a depot for other Hostess stores, had 16 employees before it shuttered.
Loewe, 57, saw her hours at the Desloge store cut from 40 to 24 in recent years. To have enough hours to maintain her health insurance, she scrambled to find fill-in hours at other Hostess stores. Her husband, who is disabled, is on her health insurance, which runs out at the end of January.
Loewe has been unable to find a new job. Many retailers already had their holiday staffing in place when Hostess closed its doors.
Right now, its a big strain, she said. My husband took early retirement and his only income is Social Security.
Loewe recently attended one of the Missouris Department of Economic Developments Rapid Response Team meetings, which offer displaced workers help with their job search, filing for unemployment and training opportunities.
THAT ROUTINE IS GONE
For Gary Phillips, a former baker at Hostess St. Louis plant, the habits from working at the same job for more than three decades are ingrained deeply in his psyche. Though he lost his job making snack cakes at the Hostess plant in north St. Louis two months ago, an internal clock still awakens him at 3 a.m., for a 4 a.m. shift that no longer exists.
Unable to sleep, Phillips now finds himself turning to housework in the middle of the night. I start vacuuming, he said. The hardest part is youve been doing something for 36 years, and that routine is gone.
Phillips, 53, began working at Hostess when he was 17. He now receives $320 a week in unemployment benefits, which equals about half his former pay.