Ferrara Candy Company, the Oakbrook Terrace-based maker of Red Hots, Lemonheads and Trolli gummies, formerly headquartered in Forest Park, has plans to expand their facility in Bellwood.

The move was announced following the company’s decision to close a Winona, Minnesota production facility after a fire at the plant in February. A company spokesman said the decision to close the Minnesota plant was unrelated to the fire. The move will take place over the next two months.

In a statement released by Ferrara, the company said the decision was made following a review of Ferrara’s manufacturing capabilities. The Bellwood facility, the company said, has more modern equipment and increasing its production will make the company’s operation more efficient.

“Expanding production in Bellwood will help increase productivity and support the company’s continued growth,” the company said in the statement.

A spokesman for Ferrara Candy declined to comment about any future increase in hiring at the Bellwood facility.

Ferrara also has production facilities in Forest Park, Tennessee, Iowa and Mexico.

The Minnesota plant closure will affect 124 employees in Winona. The fire started in a piece of candy-making equipment on Valentine’s Day, causing extensive damage to equipment, the Winona Daily News reported.

Ferrara said employees affected by the Minnesota closure will be able to re-apply for positions with other Ferrara Candy operations.

“Of course, decisions that affect people are never easy and this was not one we took lightly,” the company said. “We greatly value our employees’ hard work and dedication on behalf of Ferrara and are committed to treating all employees with dignity and respect.”

Jobs are good, but quality of work matters

The potential for hiring more workers at Ferrara’s Bellwood facility is good news, said Tony Stewart, a co-founder of the group Black Workers Matter.

But the quality of those jobs matters more, he said.

Stewart worked for Ferrara at the company’s Bellwood plant for three months and was laid off in 2015. According to Stewart, who got work at Ferrara through a temporary staffing agency the company worked with, he was laid off because he raised concerns about Ferrara’s treatment of its temporary workers and tried to organize workers.

Stewart said that while he was employed as a temporary worker at Ferrara, his paychecks were often late and he was not paid for all the hours he worked.

In December, Ferrara and two temporary staffing agencies settled a $1.5 million lawsuit brought by temporary workers in 2013.

The lawsuit was brought by African American workers hired by temporary staffing agencies to work for Ferrara. Workers claimed in the lawsuit that the temporary staffing agencies discriminated in their hiring of African Americans.

Ferrara agreed to pay $1 million, but admitted to no wrongdoing.

Stewart helped start Black Workers Matter to put pressure on the company during the lawsuit with the hope that they could win more rights for workers.

In response to news that Ferrara would be expanding its operation in Bellwood, Stewart said he hoped the company would end the practice of using temporary staffing agencies to hire workers.

“At the very least, if they do use staffing agencies, they need to watch what they’re doing,” said Stewart, adding that Black Workers Matter is calling on Ferrara to increase wages at the Bellwood facility to $15 an hour, to directly hire more workers instead of using temporary workers, and to end discriminatory hiring, he said.

“We want better wages and to be treated with respect,” he said Monday. “We want equal pay and no retaliation for pointing out [unfair hiring and wage theft].”

Stewart said that Black Workers Matter seeks economic justice for all workers, not only African Americans.

“If you work, you should be paid for the work you do,” he said. “Black workers matter, all workers matter, but black workers, too. Putting people to work with good jobs, benefits — these things will help the community.”

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