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Wisconsin Business Briefs: Hostess liquidation could mean Wisconsin workers lose jobs

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The liquidation of Hostess Brands, Incorporated, on a national level could mean 182 workers in Wisconsin will lose their jobs.

Hostess has nine retail bakery outlets in Wisconsin. Hostess is seeking permission from the bankruptcy course to dissolve its business and sell its assets. That would put a total of 18,000 people out of work. It says a strike by some of its workers makes it all but impossible to emerge from Chapter-11. Consumers looking to stock up on Hostess products like Twinkies and Ding Dongs found shelves already emptied by this morning in many locations.

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Hostess Brands said it would ask a federal bankruptcy judge for permission to shut down its plants and sell its brands, if normal production did not resume by a deadline Thursday night. The deadline came-and-went without a contract agreement. Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn told CNBC Friday it's too late to save the company - even if the workers did have a change of heart.

The privately-held Hostess is undergoing its second bankruptcy re-organization in a decade. In May, the firm told Wisconsin officials that it could scale back or close nine facilities throughout the Badger State - but it had no definite plans to do so back then. Now, Rayburn said on the company's Web site that all employees would eventually lose their jobs, and quote, "some sooner than others." Rayburn told CNBC that he hoped that Hostess could find buyers for its 30 product lines. Thousands of members of a bakers' union went on strike last week, after rejecting a company offer that slashed wages-and-benefits in September. The union represents about 30-percent of Hostess' total employees.

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Wisconsin-based Wausau Paper reports it will end production of print paper at its mill in Brainerd, Minnesota. That will mean layoffs for 48 hourly and seven salaried employees. Currently, 171 people work at the mill. The majority of the hourly positions should be eliminated by the end of the year. Some of the salaried workers could stay on as long as next summer. The move is said to be part of the company's strategy of converting the Minnesota operation and giving up the printing business. Wausau started paper production at the Brainerd mill eight years ago.

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GE Healthcare said today it will cut two-percent of its Wisconsin jobs. The economy is being blamed. The Milwaukee-based maker of large medical equipment said it had to make quote, "tough decisions in the current economic climate." Up to 130 people could be laid off from GE Healthcare facilities in Milwaukee and Waukesha. But the firm would not go into details. It said it was trying to minimize the impact by finding other jobs within General Electric for those on the list. GE Health-care employs around 6,500 people in Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin lost an estimated six-thousand private sector jobs in October. That's according to the federal government's monthly job data released yesterday by state officials. The report said 15-hundred government jobs were also lost during October - but the state's unemployment rate still managed to fall to 6.9 percent, four-tenths lower than in September. Also yesterday, the state released more comprehensive job data that it submits to federal officials for a quarterly report that won't come out until early January. That report said Wisconsin gained over 35,000 private sector jobs during the year ending in June. The Walker administration is the first to highlight the quarterly figures, as critics hold the Republican governor to his promise to create a quarter-million private sector jobs during his entire four-year term. Almost 28,000 jobs were created in Walker's first year in office. Walker's team has also criticized the accuracy of the monthly federal data. Those reports are based on surveys of just three-and-a-half percent of employers - while the less timely quarterly data represents a complete survey. The monthly figures are often subject to large revisions.

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Wisconsin's Better Business Bureau now has almost 140 complaints about a Milwaukee firm that reportedly offered government loans that were not provided. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper said hundreds of low-income people in Milwaukee's inner city lost fees of up to $40 they paid to a company called "My Bill Assist." The paper said the firm was taking applications for loans of up to 15-hundred dollars to pay bills. And some people said they were told the money came from President Obama, and did not have to be paid back. They were reportedly charged a 20-dollar application fee and a $20 membership fee. Several people told the paper they were concerned about identity theft, because they gave their Social Security numbers and other personal information to the firm. Milwaukee Police say they're investigating. The Journal Sentinel said the company stopped taking in-person applications, and only accepted requests online. Yesterday, the paper said the "My Bill Assist" Web site was limited to those with passwords.

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State officials say they're making progress in reducing a large backlog in claims for unemployment benefits. There's been a big increase in claims that need to be reviewed by hand for various reasons. Three weeks ago, the Workforce Development agency had not reviewed 9,300 requests for jobless benefits which dated back to July - and those applicants were waiting for months to get their checks. Since then, about 14-hundred of the requests were handled, with the help of 15 additional part-time workers. Spokesman John Dipko said 20 more part-timers will start next month - and they expect to make "significant progress" in reducing the backed-up caseload over the next 10 weeks. He said the July cases have been processed, and they're now working on claims dating back to around August 20th. The backlog involves cases in which unemployment recipients were overpaid after they had under-reported their incomes - either by mistake or on purpose. Officials say those claims must be reviewed manually, and the most complicated ones can take hours to handle. In other cases, the agency has to make sure that people exhausted the state's jobless benefits before getting federal extensions. Officials say the applicants will get all the benefits to which they're entitled, but they're not being paid until the processing is finished.

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The company that owns Boston Store, Younkers, and several other department store chains lost money in its most recent quarter. But the losses were only half as much as a year ago. Bon-Ton Stores reported a loss of $10.1 million dollars from July through September, down from a $22-million-dollar in the third quarter of last year. Earnings slipped by 55-cents a share in the last quarter, down from a drop of 1.21 in the same period of 2011. Revenues jumped almost two-percent, to $683-million dollars in the three months ending October 27th. Bon-Ton is based in Milwaukee and York, Pennsylvania. CEO Brendan Hoffman said the firm made a number of changes over the last year to create a better balance of merchandise, refine its marketing, and cut its expenses.

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