More than 50 guest workers, supporters storm McDonald’s demanding better wages, living conditions – The Patriot-News – 3/6/13

More than 50 student guest workers, supporters storm Camp Hill McDonald’s demanding better wages, living conditions

Eric Veronikis
March 6, 2013

Over 50 foreign student guest workers and supporters from across the state stormed the McDonald’s restaurant on Trindle Road in Camp Hill this morning claiming they’ve been exploited by the restaurant’s owner.

The impassioned group, organized by the National Guestworker Alliance, marched into the McDonald’s at 11:15 with signs and began chanting and demanding better wages, hours and living conditions from franchise owner Andy Cheung.

They said Cheung owns six of the fast-food restaurants in the midstate, including the Camp Hill and Lemoyne locations, and others in the Harrisburg area.

The group protested what the National Guestworker Alliance deemed “severe exploitation at McDonald’s restaurants in Harrisburg, Lemoyne and Camp Hill.”

A furious restaurant manager, who refused to give his name or comment on the protest, demanded the group leave the restaurant 10 minutes after protestors clogged the ordering area.

The manager then engaged in an intense verbal altercation with the group in the parking lot, where protestors spent the next hour marching and chanting “McDonald’s, McDonald’s, can’t you see, what justice means to me.”

Two police officers arrived on the scene minutes later, but did not force protestors to leave.

Instead, the group moved to the edge of property, formed a circle and continued protesting.

“There are six of us living in a basement, I have never experienced anything like this in my country,” said Jorge Rios, a college student from Argentina who came to work at the McDonald’s through the U.S. State Department’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program in December.

Rios works at the McDonald’s in Lemoyne, and said he and other employees are living in cramped nearby quarters owned by Cheung, who deducts rent from guest worker paychecks.

Cheung could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rios, who came here only to work and experience the U.S., will return to Argentina in two weeks.

The guest workers, hailing from Argentina, Peru, Chile, Malaysia and elsewhere, paid $3,000 each to participate in the J-1 program, expecting decent work and a cultural exchange, said Stephen Boykewich, spokesman for the National Guestworker Alliance, which is based in New Orleans.

Kah Inn Lee, a 23-year-old Malaysian guest worker, who works at the Trindle Road McDonald’s, grabbed a megaphone and complained about the living conditions she has dealt with while working at McDonald’s.

“I pay around $3,500, and fly all the way from Malaysia to here all by myself, and find myself living in a basement with four boys and four girls,” Lee said. “Even worse, the basement doesn’t even have a room. The boys and the girls (are) just a curtain away from each other. I have to pay $65 a week for that basement per person, with eight of them in there, that is $520 per week, and there is not even a window in there.”

Lee said she spoke to Cheung about moving to another house. But she said he told her moving her and other guest workers into another house would force him to cut her hours.

Union representatives also attended the protest.

Rick Bloomingdale, president of Pennylvania AFL-CIO, said a similar incident occurred in 2011 when roughly 200 foreign students and AFL-CIO union members protested The Hershey Co.’s policies on foreign workers.

“Labor abuse is labor abuse. Just last year, a year-and-a-half ago, we found that Hershey was engaged in similar practices, where they brought students over, and exploited them through this J-1 program,” Bloomingdale said. “To make people live in conditions like that, is nothing less than what we fought against when we organized unions in the (19) 30s.”

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