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Hershey’s to go Dark and Kiss 600 Jobs Goodbye

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Derry Township, Pennsylvania–Hershey’s plant at 19 E. Chocolate Avenue, a 105-year-old humming relic of America’s disappearing industrial past and the birthplace of the white-plumed Chocolate Kiss, will be going dark.

The Chocolate Workers Union Local 464 yesterday cast a grim “Yes” vote that will effectively eliminate 600 jobs as the workload is shifted to a new West Hershey plant across town. A “No” vote would have prompted Hershey’s to “quickly consider an alternative location in the United States,” according to Hershey spokesman Kirk Saville. In essence, the 1,400-member union jettisoned 30-percent of its rank and file from their livelihoods—the definition of a bittersweet vote.

With annual revenue eclipsing $5 billion, the Hershey Company has long been antagonized by what it characterizes as the artificially inflated price of domestic refined sugar. In 2007 the company committed to a new plant in Monterrey, Mexico, where refined sugar prices are cheaper. Last year, after plant closings in Connecticut and California, they closed their Reading, Pennsylvania factory, where York Peppermint Patties, 5th Avenue and Zagnut candy bars and Jolly Rancher hard candies were produced. In all, 1,500 jobs disappeared.

This is just the latest in a protracted battle waged by candy and chocolate makers to cut costs and bring down sugar prices, dating back more than 95 years, when Milton Hershey began acquiring sugar plantations in Cuba. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign promise to “stop subsidizing sugar,” was largely the result of the candy lobby’s attempts to permit more sugar imports from foreign countries into the States.

Sugar manufacturers argue that these quotas, set by the U.S. Government to restrict imports, stabilize prices. “There is no subsidy as such,” Benjamin L. Legendre, Professor and Department Head, Audubon Sugar Institute at Louisiana State University, told BiteDigest. “However, because we restrict imports, the market price for sugar in the U.S. is higher than it would be if we didn’t restrict imports. Right now, the world market the way it is, without quotas, we’d be paying more for sugar than we are right now.”

Layoffs will take effect within two years. Tom Ridge, ex-Governor of Pennsylvania and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and a member since November 2007 of the Hershey Company Board of Directors, did not return a call for comment.

The Hershey’s Kiss began production at the Derry Township, Pennsylvania, plant in 1907, and chocologists assert that the product got its name from the sound of the chocolate being deposited during the manufacturing process. 80 million kisses, 26 calories each, are manufactured daily at the Hershey plant and a sister plant in Virginia, using more than 400,000 pounds of sugar.

The 19 E. Chocolate plant will find new life as administrative offices, perhaps where invoices for the new Mexico plant will be processed.

Although the plant closing represents a blow to the American labor movement, at least the American sweet tooth is safe: three Hershey factories in Pennsylvania will continue to produce Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars.

Written by Brian O'Connor

June 5, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Posted in sugar

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