Smiths Falls rallies against closure of Hershey plant

Hundreds of people rallied in front of the Hershey chocolate plant in Smiths Fall near Ottawa on Saturday to protest the impending closure of the plant.

Hundreds of people rallied in front of the Hershey chocolate plant in Smiths Fall near Ottawa on Saturday to protest the operation's impending closure.

Hershey, which is based in the United States, announced earlier in the week that it would phase out operations at the plant starting later in the year, with 500 jobs to be lost. The move is part of a global restructuring plan that involves cutting 1,500 jobs.

Workers, union members, residents and politicians came out in force in Smith Falls on Saturday, saying they are upset and angry at the closure. It's expected to hit hard in the town, which has only10,000 people.

"It's never too late to reverse a bad decision," Harry Ghadban, a member of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, said to much applause at the rally.

Smiths Falls Mayor Dennis Staples, who attended the rally, said he has been told by the company that its decision is final.

He said he received a call on his cellphone from the company's head office on Thursday to let him know that the plant would close.

"That's not the way you deliver news like that," he said. "There should have been the courtesy to say: 'Let's have a meeting. Let's have a discussion on this.'"

Staples said he is still hoping to meet with Hershey's officials: "This is just the beginning. We're not satisfied with the answer we've got so far."

David Laurence, the spokesmanfor Smiths Falls and District Chamber of Commerce, said the closure will affect all kinds of local businesses in town because of spinoff effects.

He saidthe chocolate shop attached to the plant, for example,draws thousands of tourists every year.

"It's significant. It's going to devastate local industry to some extent. It's going to devastate the retail market here, and it's going to have a significant impact on people's lives," he said.

MP Scott Reid, a Conservative whose riding includes Smiths Falls, said the plant is profitable and it would be in the best interests of the company to keep it running.

"It is a matter for someone like myself, the mayor, the local MPP, to try to draw it to their attention — if necessary to go down to Hershey and draw it to their attention by turning up at their doorstep."

2nd major employer to close

The closure was confirmed three months after salmonella was found in an ingredient at the plant, which prompted a massive recall and forced workers temporarily off the job.

Hershey's will be the second major employer to close operations in Smiths Falls. The province has announced it plans to close Rideau Regional Centre, an institution for adults with developmental disabilities, by 2009 with a loss of 800 jobs.

Steve Anderson, a Smiths Falls resident, said the two closures are going to have a huge impact on his family because he has worked at Hershey's for the past 25 years, while his wife has worked at Rideau Regional for the past 30 years.

Everyone in the town is worried, he added.

"You can't do anything right yet. We're … I don't know, just …lost," he said.

Smiths Falls isabout75 kilometres southwest of Ottawa.

With files from the Canadian Press