Lebanon Daily News
Agencies probe Palmyra-area plant
By BRAD RHEN
As three federal government agencies begin investigations into the alleged exploitation of foreign student workers in a Hershey Company-affiliated warehouse in North Londonderry Township, the candymaker has requested that its subcontractors offer paid vacations to the agrieved students.
According to the National Guestworker Alliance, which helped organize last week’s protests, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and the U.S. State Department have all launched or are about to launch investigations into the students’ working conditions.
Additionally, OSHA has also opened a Whistleblower Protection Program investigation into the case, the NGA said.
Hershey Company spokesman Kirk Saville said Wednesday that Hershey “cares deeply about all of its employees and those of its vendors.”
“We were disappointed to learn that some of the students were dissatisfied in the cultural immersion element of the program,” he said.
Saville said Hershey is partnering with the students’ employers – Exel, SHS Onsite Solutions, and the Council for Education Travel USA, or CETUSA – to address the situation in a manner consistent with Hershey’s values. He said the company has requested the subcontractors provide one week of paid leave for students to immerse themselves in U.S. culture.
“The paid cultural leave will cover the final seven days of the students’ work assignment, enabling all students to travel and enjoy the United States,” Saville said. “In addition, we are partnering with CETUSA to provide a rich cultural and educational experience for these students.”
As part of the partnership with CETUSA, Hershey would provide a unique education experience for the workers, Saville said. The day-long program will include a business-education classroom component, an in-depth look at the Hershey community and Milton Hershey’s legacy, an inside look at the Hershey Company and an “only-in-America” cultural experience, he said.
“CETUSA will provide vistits to national monuments and historic sites in the Mid-Atlantic,” Saville said. “We want to help ensure all the students have a positive experience in this program and leave the United States with an understanding of the Hershey Company.”
However, the company’s offer is not sitting well with NGA.
“For five full days after the students exposed the exploitation at the Hershey’s packing plant and stood up for American workers, Hershey’s played dumb and passed the buck,” NGA executive director Saket Soni said in a release. “Then Hershey’s learned of four federal investigations into the exploitation of J-1 students at its plant, and within hours, it was offering the students paid vacations.
“There’s nothing wrong with paid vacations, but a paid vacation won’t cover up the truth: Hershey’s knew, condoned, and benefited from the year-round exploitation of J-1 student workers at its packing plant for years,” Soni added.
Further, Soni said, the candymaker has pursued a deliberate strategy of outsourcing, downsizing, and subcontracting for the cheapest, most exploitable workers for decades.
“Hershey’s has left Pennsylvania workers locked out of living-wage jobs and has left students on a cultural exchange program locked in their plant as captive laborers,” he said. “That’s Hershey’s record of brutal corporate greed, and no 11th-hour offer can cover it up.”
The situation began Aug. 17 when more than 200 foreign college students working for the summer packaging Hershey candy protested their working conditions. After conducting a sit-in that halted production in the warehouse, they protested on Chocolate Avenue in front of The Hershey Story musuem.
The students, who paid between $3,000 and $6,000 to come to the United States for the opportunity to immerse themeselves in American culture by working in a job for three months, claimed their jobs barely covered their rent and left little money or time to enjoy the American experience.
On Friday, the protesting students rejected a trip offered by CETUSA to see cultural and historic landmarks.