Why Retiring Hershey's Workers Are Trying To Establish A Union

Unions are nothing new to the Hershey company. (In fact, the first one was formed back in 1938, according to the Chocolate Workers Local 464.) But just because one group of workers within Hershey's fought for a union doesn't mean that other factory locations within the company have been granted the same rights. At one Hershey factory, located in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, more than 1,000 workers are planning to take a vote in order to unionize in the coming days (via Food Manufacturing). 

While there a many surprising twists to the story of this Virginia Hershey's chocolate factory, one of the most surprising facts might be that many of the workers pushing for the vote are actually on the verge of retirement, according to The Guardian. As of late, the employees say working conditions have gotten so bad that those who are nearing the end of their careers want to ensure employees who come after them have a better life both inside and outside of work.

Employees say the working conditions are terrible

In a video released by More Perfect Union, former employees of Hershey's shared their experience working for the company and described "prison-like" conditions at the Virginia facility that has been in use for close to 40 years (via The Guardian). Unfair pay and denied requests for days off are among the issues cited. Several employees noted that they had worked anywhere from 28 to 72 days in a row without time off. One former employee even said that exhausted employees would leave the factory during breaks and simply not return. 

There were accounts of the company keeping track of employees' social media presence and that it practiced policies that discouraged employees from taking sick days. One former employee even explained that missing three and a half days of work out of a full year — 365 days — would cause the company to initiate counseling for mental and emotional disorders due to time missed. Factory workers allege that the company used illegal tactics to discourage unionization like telling workers they are not allowed to discuss the union on company grounds, along with employing other union-busting techniques. 

In the video posted to Twitter by More Perfect Union, Hershey's CEO Michele Buck stated the company is focused on the "well-being of our employees." A spokesperson for the company told The Guardian it is "proud to have created a culture that empowers our team members to speak openly and directly with leadership and ultimately drive change within the organization," stating that it feels the steps it has taken in light of the union drive have been to educate workers. The spokesperson stated Hershey's feels a union "would be counterproductive and undermine the open and collaborative environment that has allowed the Stuarts Draft plant to thrive for nearly 40 years."