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May 16, 2002

USA: Hershey’s striking workers stand firm on issue of health care contributions

Pennsylvania-based Hershey Foods Corp took a full-page advert out in local newspapers yesterday [Wednesday] in which it was unequivocal about which side is to blame for the three week strike of 2,800 chocolate workers. “The last time we met [with the labour union leaders]... we brought new ideas and a willingness to compromise,” insisted Hershey: “The union leadership did not. Tomorrow must be different.”

Pennsylvania-based Hershey Foods Corp took a full-page advert out in local newspapers yesterday [Wednesday] in which it was unequivocal about which side is to blame for the three week strike of 2,800 chocolate workers.

“The last time we met [with the labour union leaders]… we brought new ideas and a willingness to compromise,” insisted Hershey: “The union leadership did not. Tomorrow must be different.”

The company is set to revive talks with union leaders today. They last met on 24 April. The two sides have already made agreements on wage issues, medical benefits for retirees, and retroactive pay.

One contentious issue remains, however; the rate of employee contributions to its health care plan. Currently, chocolate workers pay 6%, but Hershey wants to up this to 12% in the fourth year of the contract.

The union bosses say that this is an issue on which they will not bend. Bruce Hummel, a negotiator for the Chocolate Workers Local 464 union, explained that they believe Hershey’s stance to be about keeping non-unionised workers without better pay deals, rather than the money itself.

“What they’re afraid of is if our negotiation stays at 6% on the low-cost health plan … they’re going to have to pass that onto [non-unionised workers]” Hummel told the Associated Press: “Because if they didn’t, the[y] would come down here and knock on our door.”

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