Hershey workers at Virginia plant vote against unionization

Dive Brief:

  • Hershey workers at the company’s Stuarts Draft, Virginia, plant voted against unionizing, according to preliminary data provided by the company. The final tally from the vote showed 843 (79%) were against unionizing and 225 (21%) in favor. 
  • The facility, which makes Reese’s, Almond Joy and other confections, has about 1,400 workers. Currently, two of Hershey’s seven plants are unionized.
  • The decision to oppose unionizing bucks what has been a broader trend across the U.S. where workers at companies like Starbucks have voted to unionize or used their increased clout to go on strike with the goal of extracting concessions from their employers.

Dive Insight:

While employees at Starbucks and other employers have shown a penchant to unionize in recent weeks, the sound opposition at Hershey’s Virginia plant shows not all workers are on board.

In just the past few months, eight Starbucks stores have voted to unionize while the union has filed for elections in at least 150 locations, according to National Labor Relations Board records and public statements. Workers at an REI store in Manhattan this month also voted by an 86% majority in favor of unionizing.

In a website set up by Hershey, the company behind Kisses, Jolly Rancher and SkinnyPop outlined risks to unionized workers. In explaining its opposition to the proposal, Hershey noted it is already difficult to recruit workers at Stuarts Draft and a union could make it more difficult. It also highlighted its existing relationship where it puts “employees first” while noting the fact that although other manufacturing plants had to close and/or furlough workers during the pandemic, Hershey kept its locations open.

Jeff Beckman, a Hershey spokesman, said with the vote complete, the company is “refocusing our attention on bringing all of our employees together” and “continuing to build the collaborative and cooperative culture that has made our plant great for 40 years.”  

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union, which had been attempting to organize at Hershey’s Stuarts Draft plant, did not respond to a request for comment following the vote.

John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said the outcome at the Hershey plant was not unexpected. Large, deep-pocketed corporations are typically active in mounting an anti-union campaign and communicating to workers the ramifications of what could happen if they join one — a message that gets amplified over a longer campaign. The majority of union victories typically occur in locations with 50 or fewer workers, he said.

“It’s been really, really difficult for unions to win these types of elections for years,” Logan said. Hershey “is a wealthy, powerful corporation and it fought a very aggressive anti-defense union campaign. The company’s going to prevail in the overwhelming majority of cases.”

This is occurring despite an environment that has been favorable to organized labor. During the past year, workers at food plants around the U.S. have been going on strike in an effort to call attention to the state of wages, working hours and conditions. Workers at Kellogg, Mondelēz International and PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay have demanded concessions from their employers at a time of labor shortages, increased product demand and supply chain disruption across the U.S. The companies and their respective workers have all settled.

With companies depending on workers more than ever before, the current environment has created arguably the best environment for employee rights many have seen in years. It makes sense that efforts to unionize or strike in order to improve benefits are on the rise, even if not all of these initiatives are successful. 

“There’s going to be more high-profile organizing campaigns. I don’t think that unions are going to be so discouraged to put off organizing, even with a campaign like this,” Logan said. “We’re in a different moment right now. [There’s] more energy and more optimism among unions.”

He noted unions realize they often have to make several attempts to unionize a plant. “It’s perfectly plausible that we might see organizing activity again” at the Virginia Hershey plant, Logan added, or at the company’s other non-union facilities.