Foreign students who scraped up between $3,000 and $6,000 to enter a State Department J-1 visa program were essentially enslaved by a Hershey's subcontractor in Palmyra, Pa.
They thought they were part of a cultural exchange program to learn about America.
They learned about America all right.
On Aug. 17, the students walked off the job in a mass protest. Three local union leaders were arrested. Reports Courthouse News Service,
Four hundred foreign students complained to the State Department that the Hershey chocolate company abused a foreign-exchange program to put them to work packing chocolate and stashed them in overpriced company housing that leaves them only $40 to $140 for a week's work.
The National Guestworker Alliance claims Hershey abused the J-1 student guestworker program, violated labor laws, intimidated, coerced and threatened them with deportation.Some people were shocked by the story. But anyone who's been paying attention to the vicious assault on American workers (say, the Teamsters) wasn't surprised at all. We knew, for example, that the EEOC has filed charges against employers for bringing hundreds of Indian and Thai workers here to work as slaves in shipyards and on farms. Tens of thousands of prisoners work for companies such as Boeing (yes, we meant "tens of thousands"). And many jobs in this country amount to indentured servitude.
In an Aug. 17 letter to the State Department's Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, 12 named students said they protested the abuses on behalf of more than 400 similarly situated "Hershey guestworkers."
The students say they were recruited in their homelands around the world, including in China, Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Mongolia, Romania, Ghana, and Thailand, and that they paid $3,000 to $6,000 apiece to participate in what they were told would be a cultural exchange program, "as well as to work for three months."
Hershey's was never going to win a Model Employer award any time soon. A few years ago they shut down a York Peppermint Patty plant in Reading, Pa., and moved it to Mexico. It wasn't the first plant Hershey's moved overseas. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa was not pleased:
That plant stood for decades in Reading, providing countless families with good wages and job security. Members of this community helped build that company and this is how they are repaid. Hershey’s actions are unconscionable in this economic climate.It wasn't the first plant Hershey's moved overseas. And it won't be the last. Unless, of course, they've figured out that it's cheaper to use indentured servants here in America and save their moving costs.
WGAL-TV has some great video of the foreign exchange students here.