Students as Indentured Servants: Foreign English language students tricked into working at Hershey’s plant in Pennsylvania GO ON STRIKE!

25.08.2011 § 1 Comment

So this program is advertized in countries around the world as an English language program for young students, mostly poor, who pay exhorbitant fees for Visas to come to the US, and then find out that they ARE WORKING FOR LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE IN  A HERSHEY’S CHOCOLATE FACTORY! An insane example of a new form of human traffickign that turns students into indentured servants

And a Fuck Yeah goes to these kids cuz hundreds of them just went on STRIKE in PENNSYLVANIA.

It is totally insane, check out this article, and support them if you can.

Hundreds of foreign students walked out of a Hershey’s chocolate plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania August 17 to protest against exploitative working conditions. The students are in the US as part of the State Department’s Summer Work Travel Program.

The program, advertised as a way to practice English and travel the country in exchange for two months of work, draws more than 120,000 students to the US each year. Most students come from poor social conditions and economic prospects in their home countries, hoping to fund their education and better the financial position of their families.

Families often pay thousands of dollars to obtain the summer work visas, known as J-1 visas, through non-government firms. Visas for the 400 students employed in the Palmyra plant were arranged by a California-based company called the Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA).

The students employed in Hershey’s Eastern Distribution Center III were made to do heavy lifting and meet a strenuous production schedule, some of them working night shift. They were paid only $8.35 an hour, and large portions of their paychecks were automatically deducted for program fees and rent. Students said after the deductions they were not earning enough to recoup the cost of the program and to make ends meet.

On Wednesday afternoon, some 200 students scheduled for second shift walked into the plant and served management with a petition signed by several hundred. They then marched out en masse with other students leaving first shift, chanting, “We are the students, the mighty, mighty students!” along with slogans in many different languages. The following day, more than 100 students demonstrated in downtown Hershey.

Multiple companies have profited from the exploitative situation. In the past four years, Hershey has cut its full-time workforce by 700, and recently announced plans to cut 500 more workers next year. At the same time, the company’s profits have soared; Hershey reported second quarter profits of $130 million, up from $46 million only the year before.

Hershey has denied any knowledge of the abuse, pointing instead to management company Exel, which oversees the Palmyra facility. Exel, in turn, has insisted it has no involvement in hiring, wages, or hours since it draws its temporary workforce from subcontractor SHS OnSite Solutions. SHS receives its pool of J-1 workers from CETUSA.

The exchange program is extremely lucrative. Companies such as CETUSA pull in thousands of dollars for sponsoring each student. Businesses using foreign students can save millions of dollars each year because they do not pay taxes on Medicare, Social Security, or unemployment. As a requirement of the J-1 program, students are required to take out health insurance policies before arriving in the US.

On Friday, CETUSA held a two-hour conference call with representatives of Hershey, Exel, and SHS in an attempt to save face. Afterward, CETUSA offered the students a trip to visit some historical landmarks. “We’re actually doing this on our dime,” Anaya commented. “We’re paying for this trip. We’re just fleshing out the details.”

The students immediately indicated that they would reject the offer, saying that to accept the proposal would belittle the protest as though it was motivated by a desire to get a vacation. “They’re not interested,” Godwin Efobi, the Ukrainian student, told the Associated Press late Friday. “If we say yes to this, it means that we were just making noise just so we could get a holiday. Yes, we want that, but there are bigger issues than just a holiday.”

While the Hershey dispute is the first instance of organized opposition by foreign student workers, the conditions against which they are protesting are far from unique. An Associated Press investigation published December 6, 2010 found abuse of J-1 visa holders was rampant in the State Department’s summer program. The federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency has conducted at least two investigations into human trafficking in the summer jobs program. (See “Investigation exposes abuse of foreign students on US work visas”)

The AP interviewed 70 students, finding most of them were disappointed or angry at their situation. That report found students who were forced to work in strip clubs, under threat of deportation or harm to families back home. The AP found other students taking home $1 an hour or less, living in apartments without furnishings or in rooms so crowded that students sleep in shifts. Unable to afford food, many students turn to soup kitchens and homeless shelters; the AP reported a single Maryland church was serving upwards of 500 students per night.

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§ One Response to Students as Indentured Servants: Foreign English language students tricked into working at Hershey’s plant in Pennsylvania GO ON STRIKE!

  • J says:

    Thank you for writing about this situation.

    Is it not still the case that there is no such program available in other countries for U.S. citizens – that it has never been possible, even if there were decent working conditions?

    But this? This is heinous. And, how would our own government investigate such abuses if the State Department was involved?

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