IUF president and International President of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union, Frank Hurt, condemns Hershey Foods Corp. for forcing 2,800 members of BCTGM Local 464 employed at two of the company’s largest production plants to strike. “Our members were forced out on strike after more than five months of protracted negotiations failed to bring a fair agreement. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of these workers loudly and soundly rejected the last company proposal to double medical co-pays,” notes Hurt.
Hershey refuses to drop their unnecessary and unreasonable demand that there be a 100% increase in the contributions workers themselves must make to health care costs (“co-pays”). Hershey workers had been working under an extension of the existing contract, which expired on November 4, 2001.
This strike is the first at Hershey’s in 22 years and comes at a critical time for the company which is scheduled to increase its candy production for the traditional back-to-school and Halloween sales.
Of today’s strike action, International Vice President Robert Oakley said, “We tried to avoid a strike and until the last minute, along with the Federal mediator, we were hopeful. But the company was intransigent. It was unwilling to alter its demand that our members pay 100 percent more for their present health premium, from the present six percent to 12 percent. We think that is both unreasonable and unnecessary. Hershey is a rich and profitable company with deep cash reserves. Its sales exceed $4.5 billion annually. Its market share leaves all others in the dust. Its first quarter income this year increased 10 percent. Its Chief Executive Officer, Mr.Lenny, has a compensation package that last year exceed $22 million,” observes Oakley, the union’s chief negotiator. “Now Hershey wants to shift the burden of its health care costs onto the backs of our members, whose productivity is the big reason for Hershey’s success. For years now the union has been willing to contribute its fairshare to the rising costs of health care. This time, the 100 percent hike was too much to swallow. And you’re seeing the reaction here today,” Oakley concludes.
According to Local 464 officers, Hershey union members are frustrated and resentful toward a company that hands out exuberant bonuses like free samples and stock options to executives as if it were penny candy while asking workers for more out of pocket co-pays.
Hershey reports that it has stockpiled cash reserves and product in preparation for a strike. Many of those resources could have been used to help cover some of the health care costs that the company keeps trying to shift onto the backs of workers, says Hurt. “The company worked around-the-clock plotting and processing a strike and very few hours attempting to negotiate a settlement. Hershey must accept and bear full responsibility for this strike,” Hurt adds.
At this time there are no further discussions or meetings planned as the company simply said it was prepared for a strike. However, Oakley observes that “We presented options and opportunities that would make a settlement possible and reasonable but someone up ‘on the hill’ wants a strike. The union wants a settlement. The union remains available and open to negotiations but the time is at hand for negotiating-not dictating-terms of any contract settlement; that is the very essence of collective bargaining. Hershey workers want dignity, justice and respect and a fair contract-they have waited patiently for a long time. ”
There are 464 steps from the BCTGM Local 464 office to the main Hershey production plant on East Chocolate Avenue but the company cost-shifting proposal has put miles in between it and their workforce. Perhaps they have underestimated the determination and will of the people; maybe the company took their workers for granted?
Hershey-based Local 464 represents a total of 5,000 members. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union is headquartered in Kensington, Maryland. Its 125,000 members are engaged in the manufacture of bread and cake products, as well as cigarettes, candy and breakfast cereal. It has national collective bargaining agreements with such well-known companies as Keebler, Nabisco, Philip Morris, Tootsie Roll, Kellogg, Stroehmann and Interstate Baking.The BCTGM is a member of the IUF and the union’s president, Frank Hurt, currently serves as IUF president.
For more information on this strike, to send messages of support and to know more about Hershey Foods visit www.bctgm.org