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Hershey's chocolate bars

Hershey's chocolate bars are offered for sale on July 16, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Veteran Hershey's Workers Lead Union Drive to Benefit New Hires

"They think of us as machines that just work seven days a week," said one worker.

Julia Conley

Longtime workers at a Hershey's plant in Stuart's Draft, Virginia are leading a union drive to ensure newer employees are afforded the same benefits and working conditions they had before the candy company changed its policies in recent years—resulting in what one worker compared to prison-like conditions with little time off for many workers.

"It's known as the Hershey prison, and we get home release," employee James Gibson told More Perfect Union, a non-profit media outlet focused on labor issues, last week.

"It's known as the Hershey prison, and we get home release."

After organizing a union election for several months, workers expect to receive ballots from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers' International Union (BCTGM) on Thursday, and votes will be counted on March 24.

Workers say a two-tier compensation system has left newer workers earning $2 to $3 less than veteran workers, who also have more vacation time and pensions.

Although sick days are part of the Hershey Company's official policy, workers at Stuart's Draft report being punished through a "point system," with points recorded against them any time they take one of their five allotted sick days per year.

"At three and a half points, the company deems that you have some sort of emotional or mental issues and they send you to counseling for missing three and a half days out of an entire year," Eve Crutchfield, a former employee at the plant, told More Perfect Union.

The company has also reportedly reduced breaks, slashed overtime pay, and restricted access to training programs which would enable new workers to get raises.

Although the Hershey Company reported nearly $1.5 billion in profits in 2021—up from $1.28 billion the previous year—and paid CEO Michele Buck $19 million in 2020, workers say equipment is constantly breaking down and the company refuses to replace outdated machinery.

"You're never going to get a day off because you've got to have those days to make up for the downtime," Crutchfield said.

Employees have reported working several weeks without a single day off, with Janice Taylor, a production worker who believes she was illegally fired for union activity, telling More Perfect Union she worked 72 days in a row.

"They think of us as machines that just work seven days a week," one worker told The Guardian Wednesday. "They can invest more money to have more capacity so we don't have to do that all the time. That's the biggest issue for most people, they'd like to have a life and see their family."

BCTGM says it plans to file unfair labor practice charges against Hershey's at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing managers of illegally telling employees they were forbidden to talk about the union drive with coworkers and surveilling a private Facebook group for workers interested in unionizing.

"We're not going to turn our heads on spying on union activities, which is illegal," John Price, director of organizing for the union, told More Perfect Union. "Even the impression of surveillance is illegal."

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