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Job fair targets displaced Hostess workers

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We’ve got jobs available and (want) to support the Hostess employees who have been displaced right before Christmas. We have full-service bakeries in all of our stores. We’re always looking for bakers and salespeople. – Max Allen, Harmons spokesman

OGDEN — The long line snakes throughout the corridor of the health building on the campus of Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College.

Scores of former Hostess employees stand two abreast waiting to do something many have not done in more than two decades — interview for a new job.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services organized the event exclusively for former Hostess workers displaced earlier this month.

The renown snack cake maker shuttered 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers and 570 outlet stores nationwide, laying off 18,500 employees — including about 600 people in northern Utah.

The move followed a very public and contentious battle between management and members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union who went on strike when Hostess officials said they could no longer pay the full pension benefits.

The Ogden facility had been the employment home to generations of Utahns over the years. Brothers Dale and Tom Leatherow worked at Hostess 23 years and 20 years, respectively, most recently supervising the production lines.

“My father-in-law had gotten me on," Dale Leatherow said. "He worked there, my daughter worked there, and my brother-in-law (worked there). It was a real family place.”

Tom Leatherow said he was shocked at first when the plant closed down. Then his emotions turned to anger. Now, he says, it's “time to move forward.”

The brothers stood in line together wearing blue shirts and blue ties, and sporting nearly matching mustaches. Both were trying to find an opportunity that would be the right fit for the next phase of their professional lives.

“Hopefully there are some good, credible companies (at the fair) that are looking for workers … and we can find something that will suit us and that we're qualified for,” Tom Leatherow said.

Nearly 30 companies participated in the job fair, including Lofthouse, Kroeger, Kellogg's, FedEx, CSM Bakery, U.S. Food Service and Harmons.

“We've got jobs available and (want) to support the Hostess employees who have been displaced right before Christmas,” said Harmons spokesman Max Allen. “We have full-service bakeries in all of our stores. We're always looking for bakers and salespeople.”

The Utah-based grocery store chain had about 50 potential positions to fill, Allen said.

That was welcome news for 24-year Hostess veteran Jeanette Gould, who is still smarting from the sudden closure of the place she had worked for much of her adult life.

“I was heartbroken, and I still am,” she said. “All of us are kind of floundering out there. We're terrified, absolutely terrified.”

Gould said she was worried about how her family and others will survive if they don't find work right away. She was also concerned for those people like herself who haven't had to look for work in more than 20 years.

“I've been terrified to go out there,” Gould said, adding that she's hopeful she'll find new employment soon. "Getting out there is so scary. (I've) never experienced anything like it.”

Because the closure was so sudden, many workers did not have the chance to say goodbye to each other, Gould said. Getting a new job would signal the end of some meaningful relationships developed over the years while at Hostess, she said.

Looking ahead, the Leatherows said, some families may struggle without the steady income provided by the jobs at Hostess. For their part, both men have spouses who work to keep them afloat for a while until they can find new careers.

“My kids were kind of in shock at first, but it's getting back to normal (at home),” Dale Leatherow said. “I'm pretty optimistic. There are a lot of good companies around here and a lot of manufacturing jobs.”

He said he would “test the waters” initially to figure out what his best course of action would be.

”Maybe go back to school to get more training (or) possibly change careers,” Dale Leatherow said.

Tom Leatherow has already enrolled in classes at the Ogden-Weber ATC to “expand what I know.” Despite the recent turmoil, he said, he was also cautiously optimistic about the future.

“We're starting a new chapter in our lives,” he said. “Whatever it brings, it brings.”

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1