Hershey plan critics rally at town square
HERSHEY — Union leaders, politicians, employees and residents rallied Friday against the possible sale of Hershey Foods Corp. by the charitable trust that controls the nation's largest candy maker.
A "Derail the Sale" banner hung on the railing of a large gazebo where speakers addressed several hundred people. Children passed out lists of phone numbers and e-mail addresses for board members of the trust company.
"This is wrong, and this is not how you treat people," said Bruce Hummel, business agent for Chocolate Workers Local 464, whose 2,700 members staged a six-week strike against Hershey Foods earlier this year. "We may have disagreed at the negotiation table, but today, we agree that the sale of such an icon would devastate the community and disrupt lives."
The Hershey Trust Co. manages the $5 billion Milton Hershey School Trust, which finances the school for disadvantaged children that chocolate baron Milton S. Hershey and his wife established nearly a century ago.
The trust company, which owns 77 percent of the voting shares in Hershey Foods, disclosed last week that it is considering selling Hershey Foods in an effort to diversify its investment portfolio. Analysts say Philip Morris' Kraft Foods and Swiss candy maker Nestle would likely be among the prospective buyers in a deal that could be worth $10 billion.
"The problem is not Hershey Foods. It's the Hershey Trust Co.," said Ric Fouad, a New York lawyer and president of the Hershey school's alumni association, which clashes frequently with the school's administration.
Richard H. Lenny, Hershey Foods' chairman and chief executive officer, said in a letter to employees last week that he was disappointed when he learned about the prospective sale in March and again in May when the Hershey Trust Co. spurned the company's offer to buy back some of its stock at a premium price. However, Lenny said management will work with the trust company to find a suitable buyer.
The trust company issued a statement yesterday saying it shares the residents' concerns about the effect a sale would have on the community, but that board members have concluded that "diversification is the best way to fulfill our responsibility to the trust."
"We all have an opportunity to solidify the relationship between the community and potential purchasers by showing them there is not a better place in the world to make chocolate than Hershey, Pennsylvania," the trust company said. "We believe this can best be accomplished by working together, and we will do our part to facilitate a cooperative and constructive approach."
Sherry Walker, 46, a production worker in the chocolate syrup section of Hershey Foods, blamed the decision on board members who do not live in the Hershey area and who, she said, do not understand that the company is the core of the community.
"They don't know the history of Milton S. Hershey," she said.