The final days at The Hershey Co.'s plant in Oakdale are coming to a close.
This week marks the end of candy production at the massive factory that has sent the smell of chocolate wafting into the air around Oakdale for 43 years.
Friday will be the last day of work for hundreds of employees, ending a nearly yearlong roller-coaster ride.
Before the announcement in April 2007 that Hershey would shut down its Oakdale plant, rumors and speculation swirled for months about its fate. The news of the closure was sad, but somewhat expected, for employees.
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Hershey is closing the Oakdale plant, along with five others in the United States and Canada, as part of a restructuring plan that includes moving some production to Mexico. About 3,300 workers were cut from its North American work force.
A new facility in Monterrey, Mexico, is expected to be operational later this year.
The closure announcement invoked strong emotions. Anger and boycotts of Hershey products followed, driven by Stanislaus County residents upset to see well-paying jobs move abroad.
Dozens of people staged a protest outside the Oakdale Chocolate Festival -- an annual event that organizers have promised to continue -- the month after workers learned the plant would close.
The first layoffs in Oakdale were initiated in July. The second group of workers left in September. After the final round of layoffs Friday, only a cleanup crew will remain. The plant will be vacant by the end of February.
-- CHRISTINA SALERNO