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Ice cream plant's future in doubt

February 03, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS and ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The future of the Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream plant in Hagerstown is the subject of talks between parent company Unilever North American Ice Cream and a labor union.

Plant Manager Ken Wells said Tuesday that Unilever started talking on Jan. 27 with United Steelworkers about the possibility of closing the Frederick Street plant and moving production to other plants in the United States.

Wells said Unilever hasn't made any decisions. Talks with United Steelworkers, which represents hundreds of employees at the plant, are expected to continue over the next few weeks.

Union representative Larry Lorshbaugh didn't return two phone messages left at his home Tuesday.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission's 2008 Business & Industry Directory lists the plant as having 521 employees - 487 full time in the union and 34 who were nonunion or management. The plant was 12th on the list of the county's top employers.

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Unilever said in May 2006 that it was spending $7 million on improvements to the plant.

Gold Bond Ice Cream, as the company was known at the time, opened the Hagerstown plant in 1983. The company predicted peak employment of 350.

In 1988, after a six-year dispute, the city and the company agreed to split the cost of a pretreatment plant to handle waste.

In August 2004, workers turned down a contract offer, setting up the possibility of a strike.

Just before a strike deadline, they approved a new five-year contract.

At the time, Lorshbaugh said the union supported conditions the company added to an earlier contract offer, including an extra personal day, a cap on health-insurance increases and stronger terms about outsourcing jobs.

"The outsourcing language keeps our jobs safe in Hagerstown," he said then.

When a previous contract expired in 1998, workers stayed on the job, but picketed and protested. A new contract was signed several months later.

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