HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) -- Unionized workers at two Hershey Co. hometown chocolate plants on Friday overwhelming approved a labor deal that could eliminate hundreds of jobs and leave just administrative offices in the original factory built by founder Milton Hershey.
Union members approved the deal because of the candy maker's promise to expand and modernize its newer West Hershey plant across town and because of its threat to move the project and jobs elsewhere if the union rejected it, a union official said.
"I think the members thought it was the only way to ensure the plant would be built here instead of somewhere else in the United States," said Diane Carroll, secretary/treasurer of Chocolate Workers Local 464.
The vote was 1,317 to 95, meaning some workers slated to lose their jobs still voted yes because it would save someone else's job, Carroll said.
The company's board of directors still must approve the expansion plan, Hershey spokesman Kirk Saville said.
The Hershey Co., whose sweet treats include Almond Joy, Kit Kat, Milk Duds and Reese's peanut butter cups, could cut 500 to 600 jobs under the plan, which it says is necessary to remain competitive in a changing global market.
The 105-year-old plant, at 19 E. Chocolate Ave., has an unwieldy layout, low ceilings and narrow column spacing that make it inefficient and troublesome to upgrade, Saville said.
Union negotiators and company officials reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday after weeks of quiet negotiations.
The company has told union and state officials that it is willing to spend $200 million on the expansion, and it says the West Hershey factory would become one of the world's largest and most advanced chocolate plants, employing 1,100 people, up from about 500.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has said his administration is discussing financial incentives with Hershey officials in an effort to save jobs.