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Hershey Factory Workers Strike

HERSHEY, Pa. - Nearly 3,000 Hershey Foods Corp. workers walked off the job at two factories Friday, protesting a company offer that would increase their health insurance contributions, The Associated Press reports.

The strike affects about one-fifth of the work force at the nation's largest candymaker, but company officials said it would not interrupt service to its customers. Hershey Foods has been building inventory and cash reserves in preparation for a walkout, analysts said.

"We feel like there's too much greed at the top and they're not sharing with the rest of us," said Kay Barr, a worker who helps produce the company's Rolo candies, according to the AP.

The two plants make a variety of candy, including chocolate bars, Hershey's Kisses and chocolate eggs. Many of those products are also made at the company's 12 other plants in the United States, including a third, nonunion plant in Hershey, a spokesperson said.

"We have appropriate plans in place to make sure we can continue to meet our customers' expectations," Dugan said.

A deal offered by the company but rejected earlier this month called for worker health insurance contributions to increase from 6 percent to 10 percent, then 12 percent over four years.

Workers, who receive an average hourly wage of about $18, would get raises of 2.78 percent in the first year, 2.6 percent in the second, 2.65 percent in the third and 2.75 percent in the fourth year.

"This company's making money hand over fist and there's no reason it can't be shared," said Frankleen Gibson, who tends air-conditioning units in the Chocolate Avenue plant. "We're ready and we're going to stand tough. We're not going back in a week or two."

Workers said they also objected to the company's refusal to grant their pay increase retroactively to when the previous contract expired in November.

Negotiations between Hershey and the Chocolate Workers Local 464 broke off Wednesday. No new talks were scheduled. The company offered to enter into binding arbitration Wednesday but the union refused, both sides said.
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