McKee Foods gives $1,000 bonuses to all full-time employees

Rusty McKee, executive vice president of manufacturing, left, appears with packaging technicians Melissa Gwen Allen and Mary Peavy, from left, after McKee full-time workers received checks for $1,000 each

America's biggest privately owned snack bakery is known for its sweet treats, but even employees at McKee Foods Corp. in Collegedale were surprised this week when company executives announced and began handing out $1,000 cash awards to all full-time employees.

McKee Foods employees came to work Tuesday expecting a routine day baking and packaging products such as Little Debbie Chocolate Cupcakes, Donut Sticks and Honeybuns. But thousands of workers in Collegedale soon learned during a spring report meeting they were getting unexpected $1,000 cash awards for full-time employees and $500 extra checks for part-time employees.

"The recent federal tax legislation will provide benefits to the company and will allow us to invest back into the business. The first thing we thought about was investing in our employees," Mike McKee, president and CEO of McKee Foods, said Thursday in a report on the employee bonuses.

McKee and other executives, including the company's namesake "Little Debbie" - Debbie McKee-Fowler - handed out the checks to workers during the company's routine, yearly spring report meetings, where all employees are invited to hear an update on the company from leadership.

"We decided to keep this a tightly-guarded secret to make it more fun and impactful," said Debbie McKee-Fowler, executive vice president. "Except for our September Profit-Sharing Meetings, this is about the most fun I've had at work in my entire career."

Debbie and other members of the McKee family helped pass out checks. Mike Gloekler, communications manager for McKee Foods, said some employees were puzzled when members of the payroll department showed up to help pass out T-shirts.

"But in general the secret was well-kept and well-guarded," he said.

McKee Foods employees received a one-time lump some cash award of $1,000 for all full-time, regular employees; $500 for all part-time, regular employees; and, $250 for all spare, limited, and provisional employees, who were employed on or before March 23.

The payments come from savings McKee Foods expects this year from the new tax law, which reduced the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and accelerated the depreciation allowances on some equipment purchases.

Similar one-time bonuses have also been given to other Chattanooga workers this year from the new tax law by First Tennessee Bank, Comcast, AT&T, Bank of America, Nationwide Insurance and others. The White House estimates at least 5 million American workers have gotten bonuses or raises already because of the new tax law.

McKee Foods employs 6,250 employees at its bakeries in Collegedale, Gentry, Ark., Stuarts Draft, Va., and Kingman, Ariz.

Founded in 1934, McKee Foods is a family-owned bakery with annual sales of about $1.4 billion.

McKee also awards annual profit sharing payments to its employees each fall, Gloekler said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.