State Jobless Compensation Ruling Bitter for Hershey Workers

November 15, 2002 ( - Hershey Foods Corp. workers who walked off their jobs last spring aren't eligible for unemployment compensation payments for the period, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has ruled.

A referee for the department’s board of review upheld a decision last summer by the state Office of Employment Security that most of the 2,700 workers voluntarily went on strike and were not victims of a company lockout, according to a story in the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot News. (See  Chocolate Workers Want Jobless Benefits for Strike).

On April 23, the workers gave the company 72 hours’ notice that they would terminate their expired contract with the company. They walked off their jobs on April 26 and did not return until 44 days later, ending the fifth and longest work stoppage in the 108-year history of the company.

The workers walked of their jobs 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 new contract. The workers settled on a deal that keeps their contributions at 6% in exchange for smaller pay increases.

Union: Workers Didn’t Spark Work Stoppage

Chocolate Workers Local 464, the union that represents the employees, contended that the workers terminated their contract, but did not initiate the work stoppage. Robert Feaser, business manager for the union, told the newspaper that the workers would appeal the ruling to Commonwealth Court if necessary.

“The argument from the beginning was that we were escorted out of the plants,” Feaser told the Patriot News. “They (company officials) prepared for the strike even before it took place. We’re claiming it was a lockout. There’s a difference between terminating the contract and going on strike, and that was the point we argued.” Hershey spokesman John Long told the newspaper, “We’re pleased with the decision, which speaks for itself.”

The state department’s unemployment compensation rulings do not necessarily apply to 129 employees who were laid off before the work stoppage and were called back to their jobs after the union gave its contract termination notification. Those applications for unemployment compensation were handled on a case-by-case basis.