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Bakers Hot, Ovens Cold as Era Ends

Times Staff Writer

Continental Baking Co. turned off the ovens at its 91-year-old San Diego bakery for the last time Friday, putting 85 bakers out of work and adding to the number of bakeries in the city that have closed in recent years.

A spokesman for Ralston Purina Co., which bought the company from ITT in 1981 for $275 million, said that company officials decided to shut down Continental in San Diego “pursuant to a company program of evaluating baking operations for optimal use of assets.” The bakery bakes Wonder Bread.

But a group of 15 laid-off bakers who met outside the aging structure at the end of their shifts Friday did not want to hear corporate explanations.

The workers were bitter and felt betrayed.

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“I’ve been a baker here for 34 years. I began working here when it was Winter’s Bakery, making Betsy Ross bread,” George Quintero said. “A while back the company sent me to New York for training, and I was told back there the bakery was making a profit. It’s unfair for something that is established to be closed down like this. You got your plans. You got your goals. But now everything is gone.”

Giovanni Perez, a baker at Continental for seven years, said he did not “care about optimum money.”

“All I know is that I was going to buy a house. In August I put $1,000 down and opened escrow. Then they tell us that we are losing our jobs. Is this fair?” Perez asked.

Ron Penoyer, a Ralston spokesman in St. Louis, said the bakery employs 215 workers. While the 85 bakers are being laid off, the remaining 130 workers--mostly salespeople and route drivers--will be allowed to keep their jobs. Penoyer said that Ralston plans to use the facility to store and distribute the Wonder Bread and Hostess products that are baked at a bigger and newer bakery in Pomona. The remaining employees will market the baked products in San Diego.

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Penoyer said the laid-off bakers will be encouraged to “relocate” to other Continental facilities on the West Coast, including the Pomona bakery. But the workers said the company has told them that if they transfer they will lose their seniority.

“The people going to Pomona from here were told they would go there as brand new people, with no seniority,” said Antonio Magana, who worked at the bakery for 19 years. “I’m 44 years old and worked here almost 20 years. And what do I get for that? A kick in the butt and told to get out. What am I going to do? I’m too young to retire, and I don’t know anything else but baking bread.”

On Friday, the workers, who were given 30 days’ notice, compared severance checks, which ranged from $900 to $8,000, and talked about the Sunbeam and Oroweat bakeries that recently closed in San Diego. There are still three large bakeries in San Diego--Holsum, Webers and Vons--but the workers said there is no shortage of bakers.

“Frankly, I have to get out of the baking business,” said Jim (Scotty) Docherty. “The market is saturated with bakers here. But I’ve been a baker since I was 18 and worked here for 27 (years). I don’t know anything else. What skills could I offer an employer? I’m pretty close to retirement age. What am I going to do until then? You tell me, what am I going to do?”

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