The Workers Who Make Peeps Are on Strike

Peeps-makers at the Just Born plant in Bethlehem have walked off the job. The company also makes Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, at a different plant in Philadelphia.

Workers on strike outside Just Born plant; also, some peeps

Strike photo via BCTGM Local 6

The people who make Peeps have paraded away from their posts.

Earlier this week, workers at Just Born in Bethlehem went on strike after rejecting a contract offer from the company. Workers have been shouting “No pension, no Peeps!” and “No money, no Mikes!” while picketing outside the factory.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union say Just Born has proposed eliminating the workers’ pension plan and increasing employee contributions to benefits — all while offering only meager wage hikes.

“The workers at the company’s Peeps plant have devoted much of their lives to producing these iconic Just Born candies,” Hank McCay, president of BCTGM Local 6, said in a release. “And the company has benefited from their skills and dedication through soaring profits. Workers deserve to be treated fairly with reasonable wage increases and a pension that allows them to retire with dignity.” The union has represented workers at the Bethlehem plant since the 1950s.

Just Born, which makes Hot Tamale and Mike and Ike candies at the Bethlehem plant in addition to Peeps, says the union has mischaracterized the negotiations. The company says all current workers will remain in the pension plan with employer contributions staying at the current level; only new workers would be shifted into a 401(k) retirement plan. Just Born also says it pays “highly competitive and above average wages to our plant associates” and that the “healthcare proposal continues to offer the same percentage of healthcare costs our associates pay as our current plans.”

The company says it is committed to reaching an agreement with the union. Just Born began hiring replacement workers yesterday, telling union members they are at risk of losing their jobs permanently. “Under applicable laws, you can be permanently replaced as soon as you go on strike,” read a memo obtained by The Morning Call. “That means that the company can hire ‘permanent replacement workers’ to do your job to continue operations. If this happens, replaced associates do not return to work when the strike ends.”

The company says it does not expect Peeps to disappear from the shelves. It hired some replacement workers to keep up with demand for Easter Peeps, which it makes year-round. “Peeps, Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales are currently being produced in our Bethlehem factory,” Matt Pye, vice president of corporate affairs, told Philadelphia magazine. “We are primarily utilizing internal resources to maintain production schedules and do not foresee severe production delays.”

Pennsylvania’s AFL-CIO issued a statement urging people not to buy any Just Born candy until an agreement can be reached. “The company’s refusal to negotiate a fair contract is the latest example of the corporate greed that is eroding America’s middle class,” Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale said in a release.

Just Born, a family-owned company that has been in Bethlehem since 1932, purchased Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews in 2003. The Philly candy delicacies are still produced in a plant in Holmesburg; workers there are not on strike.