Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Woo-hoo! Hershey guestworker company punished

Last August in Pennsylvania.
Remember last year when foreign students paid up to $6,000 to come to America for a "cultural exchange program" and instead found themselves near slaves boxing chociolates in a Palmyra, Pa., Hershey factory?

It happened under the J-1 visa program, which started out as a cultural exchange program but ended up recruiting guestworkers.

The students walked off the job last August to demand Hershey stop exploiting them and give living-wage jobs to Pennsylvania's workers. Union Review has rest of the story:
The students faced immediate retaliation for their organizing. Students from all three shifts were summoned to “captive audience” meetings in the plant and threatened with deportation. Back home, the recruiters in their countries sent threatening emails to the student-workers, called their parents, and even flew into the U.S. from China to undercut the organizing. Hershey’s security directed local police to arrest labor leaders who were conducting civil disobedience in support of the students....

Afterwards, four federal agencies, including the US Department of Labor and the US State Department, launched investigations into the exploitation of J-1 student workers at the Hershey’s plant, and nearly 70,000 Americans signed a petition in support of the students’ demands. ... Hershey’s launched a PR campaign to attempt to discredit the students, and hired Blank Rome Government Relations to lobby Congress on “government affairs issues related to labor practices.” When pressured, they tried to shift the blame to the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA), the company they worked with the recruit the students. CETUSA was one of the biggest actors in the J-1 program, bringing thousands of students each year.
Here's the good news:
Monday, the State Department announced that CETUSA was now banned from the J-1 visa program—sending a clear message to all companies participating in the program, “A cultural program for foreign students will not be exploited to recruit cheap labor!” Additionally, the entire J-1 program, which has hosted over one million students, is now under review.
Now if only we could undo Nafta....