As many as 1,100 workers at Hershey's production plant in Stuarts Draft, VA are set to vote next week on whether or not to unionize, following recent complaints published by a progressive non-profit news outlet.
On Feb. 17, More Perfect Union released a video featuring testimonials from numerous workers at the factory who described cruel working conditions, an unfair pay structure and a "prison-like" environment at the facility that's been in operation for nearly 40 years.
"It's known as the Hershey Prison and we get home release," one employee said in the video, adding that they've had to work 33 consecutive days in one stretch. "People are going on their breaks and just not coming back and not wanting to be a part of it and leaving."
Other employees noted consecutive working day streaks of 72 and 28 days.
One of those workers claimed to be denied when requesting time off if she couldn't cover her shifts.
"They obviously had people or agents watching our Facebook posts or our social media," that employee claimed in the video.
"There's no empathy or sympathy within their system," another worker said.
Other complaints detailed an inequitable scale for pay and benefits; nepotism among management; a lack of advancement opportunities; frequent machinery breakdowns that result in days having to be made up; as well as management activities aimed to quell any discussion of unionization.
One employee described a company points system for days missed: "At three and a half points, the company deems you have some of emotional or mental issues, and they send you to counseling for missing three and a half days of work out of an entire year."
Stuarts Draft workers filed for a union election in January. Next week's vote will be for whether employees there will join the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union (BCTGM) — the driving force behind several high-profile labor strikes at food companies during 2021, including Kellogg's and Mondelez. Votes will reportedly be tallied on March 24.
At the start of February, Hershey announced that longtime company employee Michael Sever took over leadership as the new plant manager at Stuarts Draft on Feb. 7. The company announced the retirement of his predecessor in early November — about a month after unionization efforts reportedly began at the plant.
Newsweek said that Hershey allegedly created a website, wearehersheysd.com, aimed to warn plant workers against the risks involved with unionizing in terms of wages and benefits vs. costs of union dues. That website denounces BCTGM, claiming that the union caused the loss of more than 1 million workdays over a 10-year stretch due to strikes, and accused the union of "criminal activity."
Between 2020 and 2019, Hershey announced separate investments of $135 million and $104 million, respectively, to expand its Stuarts Draft production capacity and add a combined 175 jobs. The plant is currently the company's second-largest in the U.S.