Still Piping Up over Peeps Problems…The Sequel

By Evan Henerson

Seems like every time we read a new story about the troubles at the Just Born Quality Confections., it makes us want to go off marshmallow Peeps and their sugary Just Born brethren (Mike & Ike, Hot Tamales) forever.

We know, we know…how very un-Easter-ly of us to dis a company with good union workers.

Then again, after hearing all the goings-on at the Bethlehem, PA-based company – from the moves that precipitated the 2016 strike to the current stand-off over pensions, and an “escalating legal tangle that could soon upend the retirement plans of 10 million Americans,” well, you’d seek for some other goodies for your Easter basket, too.

The Washington Post reports that Just Born is trying to bar new employees from enrolling in the multi-employer pension plan that it has offered its workers for decades. More than 200 companies fund this same pension plan, but if the courts allow Just Born to escape it, there could be a nasty domino effect.

From the WaPo report:

“While many other companies facing similar pressures have left pensions in recent years, Just Born wants to bar new employees from the plan without paying a $60 million fee required under federal law, saying it must do so to remain competitive.

The fee exists to ensure future retirees’ benefits are covered, and if Just Born succeeds in escaping it, union officials fear the unprecedented ruling would prompt thousands of other firms to do the same. This chain reaction could divert workers and money at a time when new employees are seen as crucial to ensure ample funding for the wave of retiring baby boomers — putting payouts for millions of pensioners at risk.”

This whole business has blown up the small town of Bethlehem, pitting the company against the members of the Bakery Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTWGM) who work at Just Born. Union members voted unanimously to strike in September of 2016 and more than 100 walked off the job, the first time there had been a strike since the 1970s. The strike lasted several weeks and candy sales were disrupted, but the company would not budget on its pension stance.

More from the Washington Post:

“The union tried to hold ranks, but people started slipping away. Twenty workers crossed the picket line and went back to work. They warned striking friends they would lose their jobs if they did not return immediately. The company even held a job fair, and more than 150 people showed up, enticed by the attractive pay people could earn without a college degree.”

The pension company has sued Just Born and the company has counter-sued the union saying the strike was illegal. Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies, stopped paying into the multi-employer pension in 2011 and filed for bankruptcy. The courts allowed Hostess to escape the pension fund without paying more than $1 billion in owed obligations.
Meanwhile, the number of employees at Just Born are down, from 400 workers at the time of the strike to 326 now, 250 of whom are in the union.

Read the full article here.


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