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Hostess products are shown on Nov. 15, 2012, in Chicago. Hostess has warned striking workers with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union that it will move to liquidate the company if plant operations don't return to normal levels by this afternoon.

Hostess Brands says it's going out of business after striking workers across the country crippled its ability to make its Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Wonder Bread and other snacks.

The company had warned employees that it would file a motion with U.S. Bankruptcy Court Friday seeking permission to shutter its operations and sell assets if plants didn't resume normal operations by a Thursday evening deadline.

The closing would mean the loss of about 18,500 jobs, 145 of which belong to workers at Oakland's Colombo Bakery, located in East Oakland near Interstate 880..

"Many people have worked incredibly long and hard to keep this from happening, but now Hostess Brands has no other alternative than to begin the process of winding down and preparing for the sale of our iconic brands," CEO Gregory Rayburn said in a letter to employees posted on the company website. He added that all employees will eventually lose their jobs, "some sooner than others."

David Morgan, one of 70 bakers at Oakland's Colombo Bakery, expressed optimism about the potential liquidation as he continued picketing in front of the plant, despite already knowing that he was going to lose his job.

"I knew something like this would happen," Morgan said. "Voting no and going on strike was my only chance to voice my opinion."

Morgan and other employees are hopeful that private investors will come forth and try to save the iconic brands so many have grown to love, and are hopeful for the possibility that this may not be the end.

"Just because the CEO makes a statement that they're going to force liquidation doesn't mean the judge is going to accept it. The judge could tell them renegotiate," Morgan said. "If not, we will get jobs. If there are no Hostess products on the shelves, the store will call others to fill the shelf space."

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, shuttered bakery operations at its 33 factories effective immediately and said its stores will remain open for several days to sell already packaged products. The privately held company filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than a decade.

"Unfortunately, because we are in bankruptcy, there are severe limits on the assistance the (company) can offer you at this time," Rayburn wrote.

Thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike last week after rejecting in September a contract offer that slashed wages and benefits. Hostess said Friday the company is unprofitable "under its current cost structure, much of which is determined by union wages and pension costs."

A union representative did not immediately return a call from the Associated Press seeking comment on the company's announcement.

The company had already reached a contract agreement with its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters had urged the bakery union this week to hold a secret ballot on whether to continue striking.

Hostess, founded in 1930, was fighting battles beyond labor costs. Competition is increasing in the snack space and Americans are increasingly conscious about healthy eating. Hostess also makes Dolly Madison, Drake's and Nature's Pride snacks.

Hostess had said that production at about a dozen of its plants were seriously affected by the strike. Three plants were closed earlier this week.

In spite of company comment stating that all production would come to an immediate halt, the smell of baking sweetbread wafted through the air as the Colombo bakers marched on.

"I believe in the union," said Margarita Robles, a 25-year company employee. "I will stay here until the last minute to see what happens after the negotiations. It's not so much a question of getting more, I just don't want anything else taken away from us"

Staff writers Erin Ivie and Harry Harris contributed to this report.