Mule Headed Season

By Larry Teren

What separates us human beings from the animals is the ability to think, right? Animals may do things by habit or instinct but we, the superior kind, are able to make logical decisions and act accordingly. Or do we? Take these examples of stubbornness.

1. There has been much in the news lately about Hostess Corporation closing down operations and selling off assets. Ownership says that they can no longer afford to run the business as is because employee wages and benefits are too expensive. They didn’t without warning petition the bankruptcy court to close up shop and let go their 18,500 employees. Instead, they claim they tried to bargain in good faith with the twelve- that’s right- different unions that protect their workforce while renegotiating three hundred- right again- labor contracts.

Now that the court approved their request to liquidate, 15,000 employees will be immediately
terminated and the rest in another four months. Many of these idle workers will indeed end up
working for rival confectionery companies that are mostly non-union. But that’s what you get for being stubborn, right?

Media interviews with more than a dozen workers indicated that all were willing to sacrifice to
make a point. The point was that they would rather lose their jobs than put up with lower wages.
One man said that five years ago he made $45,000 a year. Last year he earned about $35,000 only because he put in overtime. Another 23 year veteran of Hostess said that it was no longer worth working there and that she would rather draw unemployment compensation.

Maybe, however, dear reader- a baker’s job is no longer worth $45,000 a year? Whose fault is
that? (I’m just asking, that’s all.) After all, had anyone else been offering this guy $45k a year to bake? The real estate market has exhibited home value shrinkage. Maybe the same is happening in the job market. A friend who was the chief operations officer for a manufacturer lost his job when the company was sold and new management was brought in. Four months later he is still looking for work and hoping to find it at the very nice salary (or better) he was used to.

I’m not saying that Hostess is an idyllic company. But two things- Hostess says that part of their business decline is due to people being more health conscious and buying less Ho-hos, Twinkies and other type of sweets. Some of the unions were willing to renegotiate but it had to be all or nothing. Not because that is what Hostess preferred because those are the labor rules. All twelve unions had to be on the same page or forget it.

The people who own Hostess will recoup their investment by selling off brand names, recipes and machinery. The out-of-work employees will collect federal assistance for a short while and then hopefully find jobs that match or better their previous salaries. Good luck to both.

2. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season that lasts
about four and a half weeks, It is called Black Friday, although I don’t know why, because it
starts out with a bang in the middle of the night between Thursday and Friday. Shoppers camp out at their favorite electronics and other specialty stores hoping to be the first in line to grab products at severe discounts. One person salivated on television to a news reporter as he expressed hope in buying a 40 inch television for about $180, an alleged savings of over $150. I guess owning a bigger entertainment device is more important than sleep.

An interesting tidbit culled from a so-called consumer shopping analyst: He said that more
than half the holiday season sales are done during the 24 hour Black Friday period and that
another 40% is done at the last few days before Christmas. The rest of the four week period shows little spike in sales. Most consumers, he continued, wait until the stores get desperate and lower prices to almost 70% off. They purchase mostly clothes and other essentials that do not get turned into gifts but used for the family.

Why the gamesmanship by the stores? If half the sales are done very early on and merchandise is not going to move so quickly when reset back to regular price- why not just abandon the high price concept and get people coming out to the stores in regular droves? This helps the cash flow even if it means lower profits. Anyway, the profits are not going to be there when they heavily discount during the final week.

3. I heard on the radio a man convicted of anti-war protesting violence several times talking
about finally going to jail after several suspended sentences. He said that even though he can take only a handful of personal items with him to his cell, it was well worth it. Yeah, sure. Dumb ass- I mean, mule.

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