Category: Documents

Despite threats to their families, guestworkers in Louisiana went on strike in June 2012 to expose forced labor on the Walmart supply chain. In Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, Walmart supplier C.J.’s Seafood has subjected 40 Mexican guestworkers on H-2B visas to forced labor, stolen wages, unfair labor practices and discrimination—from which Walmart has profited.

Below are copies of official complaints filed on June 6, 2012, on behalf of the workers with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Three federal investigations were opened, by DOL Wage & Hour, OSHA, and the EEOC.

In July 2012, the DOL cited C.J.’s Seafood for multiple serious violations of federal safety and health rules, and fined the company $21,550 (PDF).

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On Feb. 21, 2012, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited and penalized Hershey’s subcontractors Exel and SHS for violations of federal safety and health law at the Hershey’s chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, PA.

The OSHA investigation began after hundreds of student guestworker members of the NGA went on strike from the plant in August 2011 to expose brutal conditions, sub-minimum wage pay, and threats and retaliation by supervisors and labor recruiters.

Last year, student guestworkers at the Hershey’s packing plant held a factory occupation — and made the pages of the New York Times, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. They exposed how a major corporation and its subcontractors and recruiters turned the State Department’s J-1 cultural exchange program into a nation’s largest temporary worker program, sourcing captive student workers to the 1% — while destroying living wage jobs for local workers.

As a result of the Justice@Hershey’s campaign, led by the National Guestworker Alliance, the State Department announced at the end of the year that it would overhaul the J-1 visa program. If you are one of the 300,000 people who watched the students’ videos on YouTube, or the 71,000 who signed the students’ petitions, or the 1,000 who marched in Hershey, Pennsylvania, join us in celebrating.

This year, we are renewing our call for action by the U.S. State Department. We are asking, once again, that the State Department shut down Hershey’s recruiter, CETUSA. CETUSA deceived, exploited, and threatened retaliation against hundreds of J-1 student workers at the Hershey’s packing plant. When students organized, CETUSA retaliated on Hershey’s behalf — and went on record in the New York Times defending its actions, saying, “This is America and this is the way we do things here.”

Six months after the students exposed the scheme CETUSA was running for Hershey, CETUSA continues to operate with impunity. A growing number of national immigration and labor advocacy organizations have joined NGA’s call to shut down CETUSA, as the letters below show. We are asking the State Department to send a strong message to the hundreds of recruiters and companies that use the J-1 program: this is not the way we do things in America.

“Serious review of the J-1 program begins with holding recruiters accountable that have profited from the exploitation of J-1 student workers while destroying living wage jobs,” said NGA Legal Director Jennifer J. Rosenbaum. “We renew our call on Secretary Clinton to immediately suspend and revoke CETUSA’s right to issue additional J-1 cultural exchange visas.”

(Download as PDF)

What is the 9/23 march all about?

In the six weeks since hundreds of J-1 student workers went on strike to end exploitation at the Hershey’s packing plant, Hershey’s has refused to come to the table to discuss the students’ demands, including the demand that Hershey’s create 400 living wage jobs for local workers.

Hershey’s seemed to hope that when the students returned to their home countries at the end of the summer, the pressure would end. Instead, the students organized hundreds of local workers and labor leaders into a growing fight for living wage jobs. Friday’s 1,000-person march in Hershey (Sep. 23 at 12:45 p.m., Homestead Rd. and Chocolate Ave. (Rt. 422), Hershey, PA) is just the start of that fight.

What are the students’ demands?

1) Return the $3,000-6,000 each student paid for a cultural exchange program they never receive, and 2) turn the 400 jobs the students filled in the Hershey’s packing plant into living wage jobs for local workers.

If these jobs had been living wage jobs under a union contract—which they were before Hershey’s chose to subcontract them out to the cheapest possible workers—400 workers in Central Pennsylvania could have made at least $18 an hour. That’s $15 million last year alone that Hershey’s has an obligation to return to Central Pennsylvania’s economy.

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Over the Labor Day weekend, a commission of by six leading human rights scholars from five U.S. universities released the results of an independent investigation into exploitation of J-1 student workers at Hershey’s packing plant (download key excerpts or the full report).

The report includes:

  • Evidence of “a widespread coercive campaign” by Hershey’s subcontractors to intimidate students who organized for basic human and labor rights;
  • Details of “potential legal violations, including discrimination, forced labor, substandard conditions of work, wage theft, and infringement on associational rights”; and
  • A recommendation that the State Department suspend the ability of sponsoring agency CETUSA to issue J-1 visas.

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August 17, 2011


Ann Stock Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs U.S. Department of State U.S. Department of State 2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 2052


Dear Under Secretary Stock,

We, the students listed herein, members of the National Guestworker Alliance, write to request the revocation of sponsorship for Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA) on behalf of ourselves and the other more than 400 similarly situated J-1 student guestworkers employed at the northeastern chocolate co-packing Eastern Distribution Center III operated located at 500 N. Lingle Palmyra PA by the Hershey Company, Exel North American Logistics Inc., SHS Onsite Solutions, and Cultural Exchange Travel USA (CETUSA).

Read the full complaint (PDF)

“When we started our organizing in labor camps across the South, we dreamed of dignity and respect at work. We urge all those on the side of dignity to say, loudly, that these new rules are right, so we can make that dream real.”
– Daniel Castellanos, NGA founding member

On March 17, 2011, NGA won a major victory and a vindication of five years of organizing, advocacy, and litigation as the Department of Labor proposed new regulations for the H-2B non-agricultural visa program. We laud these proposed regulations—now we have to ensure the Department of Labor adopts them as proposed. These new regulations, if adopted, will help prevent employers from manipulating the H-2B program to engage in labor trafficking and debt servitude of guestworkers.

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On June 26, 2007, NGA staff testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy at a hearing on the “Adequacy of Labor Law Enforcement in New Orleans.”

The full testimony is available here.

Excerpt from the testimony of NGA Executive Director Saket Soni

[W]orkers, themselves, believe that it is very important that the Department of Labor take responsibility to aggressively educate H2-B workers on their rights, to make sure that employers who don’t follow the law are decertified, and to make sure that the Department of Labor conduct random audits and investigations on H2-B employers, and, most importantly, that in the context of the high level of unemployment in post-Katrina Gulf Coast, any claim that you cannot find U.S. workers who are willing or able to do these jobs should really be scrutinized.

In the final analysis made by H2-B workers, the guest worker program, itself, is deeply flawed. The condition these guest workers are in are a window into what workers across the country will face if Congress expands the program. As long as workers are tied to one employer, as long as they come into this country with debt, and as long as there is no regulation or policing of employers or recruiters, employers will have extraordinary power over workers, and all workers will find themselves in situations [of exploitation].

Hundreds of thousands of workers enter the United States each year on temporary visas through the U.S. guestworker program. They work in critical industries, from landscaping to construction to education, in deeply exploitative conditions that frequently rise to the level of forced labor and involuntary servitude.

Download NGA’s six-page booklet to read about their struggle to expand the right to organize for all workers.

Donate now!

Your donation will support workers' fight to end forced labor, wage theft, and exploitation -- for guestworkers and U.S. workers alike!


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