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Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
The Hershey Co. says changes it is proposing at its two hometown plants may lead to the loss of up to 600 jobs.
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updated 6/1/2010 4:06:56 PM ET 2010-06-01T20:06:56

The Hershey Co. said Tuesday that it is proposing to slash up to 600 jobs in a move to modernize and expand the newer of its two hometown plants while shutting down production in the original plant built by founder Milton Hershey.

The plan is part of a tentative agreement with union negotiators and must be approved by a majority of the approximately 1,600 unionized workers at the two Hershey chocolate plants.

Hershey spokesman Kirk Saville said the move is necessary to remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace.

The nation's second-largest candy maker said it plans to significantly expand and modernize the newer West Hershey plant, making it one of the world's largest and most advanced chocolate plants. If the union rejects the plan, the company is threatening to move the jobs and investment elsewhere.

"If employees do not approve the tentative agreement, the company will be forced to quickly consider an alternative location in the United States," spokesman Kirk Saville said.

The company's plant on Chocolate Avenue, more than a century old, has problems like an unwieldy layout, low ceilings and narrow column spacing that hamper efficiency.

The announcement comes a little more than three years after Hershey mounted a broader effort to expand overseas while slashing jobs and closing inefficient plants in North America.

Officials from Chocolate Workers Local 464 did not immediately return phone messages Tuesday.

Hershey did not disclose a projected cost for the project.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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