Chocolate Workers Wants Jobless Benefits for Strike

December 18, 2002 ( - Nearly 2,700 Hershey Foods Corp. unionized employees who staged a strike earlier this year in a dispute over insurance benefits are trying to get unemployment payments for being out of work.

According to a news report in the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot Ledger, the workers presented the case for getting the jobless benefits before the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

The proceeding focused on the appeal of the department’s May ruling by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. The earlier ruling found that the workers were ineligible because they voluntarily went on strike and were not the targets of a management lockout, the Patriot Ledger said.

The workers want jobless benefits for the 44 days they were on strike. It was the fifth and longest strike in the 108-year history of the candy maker, according to the newspaper.

Employees at Hershey’s East Chocolate Avenue and Old West Chocolate Avenue plants went on strike over the company’s attempt to require them to pay 10% of their monthly health-benefit premiums over the next three years, and 12% in the fourth year of a four-year contract.

The workers settled on a contract that keeps their contributions at 6%, in exchange for smaller than planned annual pay raises.

A decision by the review board could be appealed to Commonwealth Court.

The department’s ruling in May did not automatically apply to 129 employees who were laid off before the strike began on April 26 and were called back to their jobs, the newspaper said. Those applications for unemployment compensation were handled on a case-by-case basis. Those workers were called back to their jobs after the union notified the company of the strike.

The employees are represented by Chocolate Workers Local 464, which is a subsidiary of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.