LAFAYETTE — The closure of Hostess Brands Inc. put the brakes on Gerald Robinson’s career and left him without health insurance for his family, including a son with asthma.
Robinson worked an early-morning shift as a Cotton’s Holsum Breads route salesman in New Iberia.
Robinson, 50, joined other former Holsum/Hostess employees in reviewing their options last week during benefits orientation sessions hosted by the Louisiana Workforce Commission in nine Louisiana cities.
Three displaced employees attended the Lafayette session, a fraction of the 400 people statewide who lost their jobs.
Robinson and other former employees like John Mac Melancon, 62, learned at the sessions how to keep up with unemployment insurance and improve job-seeking skills.
They hope to put that knowledge to use, but are concerned about their futures.
Robinson heard about the Hostess liquidation on the radio Nov. 16.
Robinson met up with other drivers completing their routes that morning, but no one knew what the liquidation meant for their jobs. After a series of calls that led them to a supervisor in Mississippi, they finally got the answer.
“They basically told us to clean out our personal stuff from our lockers and that we didn’t have jobs anymore,” Robinson said.
Robinson called his clients — some of whom he’d served for the duration of his 13-year driving tenure — to give them the news, packed up and went home. Shortly after, he filed for unemployment and tried to figure out what to do next.
Robinson considered going back to school instead of returning to 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. driving shifts, but the entire process was overwhelming. He had not had a resume in 30 years.
“You didn’t used to need a resume to get a job,” Robinson said.
The biggest impact in Louisiana was felt in Alexandria, where 200 people lost their jobs at Cotton Brothers/Holsum Bakery. Hostess’ liquidation caused the layoffs of more than 18,000 workers nationwide, leaving employees like Robinson without severance pay or pay for accrued vacation days.
“They threw us to the wolves,” Robinson said. “That’s so discouraging that the people that are still working there are still going to be paid and getting bonuses.”
About 3,200 Hostess employees nationwide are being retained to help in winding down operations, including 237 employees at the corporate level, and $1.8 million will be paid out to 19 executives.
Holsum had more than two dozen retail locations in Louisiana, including those in Lafayette, Opelousas and New Iberia. Three days after Hostess announced its liquidation, the Holsum Outlet store on Bertrand Drive was packed with Wonder Bread and snack food lovers looking to stock up on their favorite items. At the time, it was unclear whether the brands would continue.
The store shuttered that week and it is unclear whether it will reopen if new owners purchase Hostess Brands Inc. Holsum did not respond to requests for comment. Last month, Hostess said in court that it’s in talks with 110 potential buyers for its brands, which include Twinkies, Sno Balls, CupCakes, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos.