DERRY TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUNTY—A tentative agreement between the Hershey Company and its workers could stop production at the chocolate maker's historic downtown Hershey plant. It could also lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs.
Hershey's landmark Chocolate Avenue plant started churning out the company's famous chocolate in 1905, but by the end of 2011 it could become administrative offices, according to company spokesman Kirk Saville.
Workers said more than 400 people could lose their jobs as the workforce is shifted to a more modern plant on the west side of town.
"We want our jobs," worker Sheila Liddick said. "We want to stay here as a company and be able to support our families."
A tentative labor agreement with union workers would move about 600 people to the newer West Hershey production plant, built in 1992, Liddick said.
Union leadership did not return phone calls Tuesday requesting comment.
Company spokesman Saville said up to 600 people could be let go as Hershey works to make production more efficient, cost-effective and competitive.
Saville said the West Hershey plant would become one of the world's largest and most advanced chocolate-making facilities.
People in the iconic downtown lined with Hershey's Kiss-shaped street lights said the move will change the spirit of this special place.
"It was always cool that the factory was right there and you could smell the chocolate in the air," said James Barton, who lived on Chocolate Avenue when he was a teenager.
"It's something nobody ever thought would happen," Gloria Leininger said, while sitting on a bench in a park along Chocolate Avenue. "Everybody loves Hershey."
Workers said layoffs would be done by seniority.
They said if they do not vote to accept the agreement, the company will look into moving production to other locations.
Spokesman Saville would not elaborate on where those locations may be.
"You have no choice but to vote yes if we want to keep our jobs in the area," worker Liddick said.
The union workers will vote on the agreement on Friday.