Former Hostess Workers Get Help

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Emporia, Kan. (WIBW) - Workers with the Bakers' Union who went on strike November 10, hoping Hostess would negotiate on pay and pension plans, ended up in the unemployment line - even before the company shut down November 16.

"I filed for unemployment on the 11th, now it's the third of this month," William Cherry, a former operator at the Emporia plant, said. "Now I got a denial letter in the mail saying I don't have the right information."

"I'm frustrated that my family has got to suffer through this," Cherry said, saying it would take another seven weeks for his paperwork to be fixed. "Now we don't know what we're gonna do?"

KansasWorks, a federally-funded program that provides assistance with job searchers and job training, has set sessions at the Flint Hills Technical College throughout this week to help these former Hostess employees navigate those murky waters and connect workers with other resources.

"We definitely encourage them to come out o the Southeast KansasWorks office over at the Flint Hills Mall and hone some of those skills," like resume writing and interviewing, Shelly Kelley, the center's manager, said.

About 60 people attended two sessions on Monday, learning about resources provided by organization like the Salvation Army and the United Way, and sought answers from representatives of the Department of Labor.

Many of the attendees said their unemployment benefits have yet to be approved.

Kansas law says workers cannot get paid benefits while participating in a strike. Department of Labor staff say they are awaiting a response from Hostess on the reason for each employee's separation case before they can process unemployment benefits.

Ruben Hernandez says that''s putting his life in limbo.

He says he and a friend are trying to enroll in a continuing education program offered to so-called displaced employees laid off by Hostess' closure.

"In order to get into [the program], we need a termination letter of some kind," he said. "If Hostess won't send us that, we can't start that program." He says he's hopeful the paperwork will be sorted out. In the meantime, he says he's got savings to go back to.

Others say they are also taking this opportunity to go back to school.

"I'm gonna be 40 years old this next June," Cherry said. "Here I am going to school. My daughter is going to be attending tech college too. So I'll be going to school with my daughter. That's kind of a different feeling. But you know, it's life," he said.

KansasWorks has sessions tomorrow for the rest of the Bakers' Union members.

Sessions Thursday are for engineers, teamsters and non-union members.

KansasWorks is hosting a job fair next week, Wednesday, December 12, at the Flint Hills Mall in Emporia. Organizers say at least 50 employers will be present, seeking to hire.