Balking at pact offer, Hershey workers strike

Apparent sticking point is increase in cost of health insurance

April 27, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

HERSHEY, Pa. - Hershey Foods Corp. workers went on strike yesterday at two plants after the biggest U.S. chocolate candy maker and the employees union couldn't agree on a new contract.

About 2,800 people - a fifth of Hershey's work force - walked off their jobs at 9 a.m., said Robert Oakley, chief negotiator for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. The striking employees are members of the union's Chocolate Workers Local 464.

Talks among Hershey, the union and a federal mediator broke off Wednesday after Hershey said it wouldn't change its contract proposal, Oakley said. No new talks are scheduled, the union said. Under Hershey's offer, employees' health-insurance payments would increase to 10 percent, from 6 percent, and then to 12 percent over four years, union spokesman Bruce Hummel said.

"We had negotiations on Wednesday and we didn't reach an agreement," Oakley said. "The employer said [the contract proposal] was their final position."

Hershey "brought a number of new ideas to the table" that the union rejected, company spokeswoman Christine Dugan said.

That included an offer to let an outside party decide on the contract, to which the company and the union would conform. That option is open until May 3, Dugan said.

The strike won't interrupt business at the maker of Hershey's Kisses and Kit Kat bars, Dugan said. She wouldn't say which of the companies facilities would pick up production for the strikebound plants. A plant in Oakdale, Calif., is absorbing some of the work, according to the union.

Shares of the Hershey-based candy maker fell 57 cents to $67.54. They have risen 8.6 percent in the past year.

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