Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Whoa! McDonald's guest workers strike in Pa.

The striking students today.
Seventeen Latin American and Asian students walked off the job at McDonald's restaurants today at 11 a.m. in Harrisburg, Lemoyne and Camp Hill, Pa. They are here on the J-1 "cultural exchange" visa program. The students say they're paid less than minimum wage and forced to pay McDonald's so they can live in a crowded basement.

And they paid $3,000 for the chance to come and work here.

Sounds like neo-slavery to us.

Josh Eidelson at The Nation reports,
The visiting students ... were promised full-time employment; most received only a handful of hours a week, while others worked shifts as long as 25 hours straight, without being paid overtime. “Their employer is also their landlord,” said (National Guest Workers Alliance Executive Director Saket) Soni. “They’re earning sub-minimum wages, and then paying it back in rent” to share a room with up to seven co-workers. “Their weekly net pay is actually sometimes brought as low as zero."...  
NGA also charges that management required the guest workers to be on call 24 hours a day, ready to show up for work at 30 minutes notice, and that workers have been subject to threats and retaliation for speaking up or turning down work.
Sean Kitchen at the raging chicken press blog met with the students on Sunday at the Quaker Meeting House in Harrisburg.  Fernando from Peru and Allyson from Paraguay told the group there:
...(Fernando) had to pay around $3,000 to join this program.  He noted that other students had to pay between $3,000 and $5,000 to participate in the same program   To make matters worse, he took out a loan from close family members so he could join the J-1 program.  From there his story of optimism and hope quickly turned downhill. 
The living conditions for the students who are in this program are horrid.  As Fernando and Allyson were explaining, there are at least six to eight male a female students living in the basements of three houses, and all of these houses are owned by McDonald’s  managers.  In exchange for living in these houses, the roommates have to pay $2,000 each, which is automatically taken out of their paychecks.  There are no rooms, they are all living in an open single room, and they are sleeping on paper think bunk bed mattresses.  As Fernando kept on telling us “we’re paying $2,000 to live like this? To live inside the bottom of a basement?”  Throughout their session, Fernando was hesitant when he kept saying “home,” because he knew that he wasn’t living in the home, the managers, who locked the workers inside the basement, were enjoying all the luxuries of the home they were trapped in...
To get to work on daily basis, some of the students had to spend a good portion of their trip, maybe 10 to 15 minutes, walking along the curb of a major interstate, but if they were to get a ride to and from work from their employer, that ride would be automatically deducted from their paycheck – money they never got to see.  While at work, these “students” were often forced to work from 6 or 7 in the morning to as late as 11 at night with only one 30 minute to hour break.  And to top it off, these students are paid minimum wage for all the hours they worked, despite working well over 40 hours per week, qualifying them for overtime pay. 
We'll keep you posted.