Workers at the Hershey chocolate factory in Stuarts Draft are now filling out mail-in ballots to determine whether or not they will unionize. Meanwhile, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against the factory. Reports by Randi B. Hagi of the WMRA.
Janice Taylor marked her 14th anniversary working at Hershey on January 8. She was first hired as a case packer, but spent most of her years there operating the case packers. She says her co-workers were great and the pay was great, but there were also issues. On the one hand, it is common to have to work –
JANICE TAYLOR: … more than 30 consecutive days or more.
Taylor also cited a disrespectful management culture and said that when she and other colleagues tried to resolve issues with HR, they were given a company phone number to call — and nothing ever happened. been done. She was therefore in favor of joining the International Union of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Milling Workers, or BCTGMwhich, as the Chief Information Officer reportedbegan working with employees on union efforts last fall.
Taylor had previously been a union member, with the IUE-CWA at the American Safety Razor factory in Verona. She felt that the union provided –
TAYLOR: A fairer workplace. More respect and dignity for workers.
So while she says she wasn’t involved in the union organizers’ involvement in Stuarts’ draft, she openly endorsed their efforts, which led to clashes with her supervisor.
TAYLOR: He came to me and said I can not discuss the union at the factory. But in turn, they distributed all kinds of anti-union newspapers, you know, we had to listen to them.
Then, last month, she was fired.
TAYLOR: I was fired because of my union activity. I’ve had so many people contact me and tell me they’re scared. They are afraid of reprisals.
Taylor says that on Jan. 12, she lost track of time and took a 44-minute break when she was only supposed to take 30. She said the only other disciplinary action on her file came from an interpersonal conflict six years ago, when she told another employee to “grow up.” Nine days after taking that break, Taylor says she was called into a meeting with HR and suspended. Eight days later, she was fired.
TAYLOR: I don’t have medical insurance…needless to say I don’t have any income…that’s the furthest thing from my mind to ever happen to me, knowing that I’ve been there a dedicated employee for 14 years. No supervisor has ever, ever complained about my job performance. And to be treated this way is so unfair.
Taylor’s case is now one of 12 charges brought against BCTGM with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Hershey violated the National Labor Relations Act. The charges paint a picture of a company using both carrots and sticks to chill union support — sticks like firing Taylor and threatening to discipline employees who talk about union benefits, and carrots like distributing unexpected gift cards, raises and extra paid days off to entice employees to leave the union.
A board representative told WMRA that a regional investigator reviews allegations and decisions in such cases are usually made within one to three months.
A Hershey spokesperson said in an email that they had no one available for an interview. The email said in part, [quote] “Our Stuarts Draft plant has operated successfully for almost 40 years without a union and that success has been built on the collaborative work environment that Stuarts Draft employees have built together over that time.”
The inquiry is now taking place alongside the union election process – the board sent out ballots to employees last Thursday. They are to be counted on March 24, and already the election has attracted attention from as far away as The Guardian and senator Bernie Sanders’ Twitter account.
The union needs a 50% vote of the workforce to form a chapter there, but BCTGM organizing director John Price fears Hershey’s union-busting activities will affect the outcome.
JOHN PRICE: There’s no doubt in my mind that these violations have really forced workers to change their minds.
If the majority of workers vote against joining the union, the BCTGM could ask the board to redo the election due to alleged tampering, like what is happening now with Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama.
Price says there was a lot of excitement for the union when he first visited the Stuarts Draft in October.
JOHN PRICE: They had all these problems, starting with the mismanagement of the factory manager, until they were told that their bonus was going to be changed on the weekend. They were working, you know, 30, 40, 50 days straight… It’s just amazing to me, like I said, five months ago, how excited people were. And now, after two months of these highly paid union busters, it’s kind of fractured that solidarity that they had.
On a anti-union company websiterecognizes Hershey [quote] “training sessions led by our consultants” who are “highly qualified and experienced labor law experts” – this was in response to an anonymous comment from an employee who thought the session was led by people from the National Labor Relations Board.
Taylor says it might be too late for her – but it’s not too late for them.
TAYLOR: We’re not greedy people. We are not asking for more money. We ask for respect.