Category: McDonald’s Must Pay

March 12, 2014

The world watches the US on labor abuse – op-ed

The Hill

By Jennifer J. Rosenbaum

On March 13, the United Nations Human Rights Committee will meet for a two-day review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—and our nation’s representatives will have some explaining to do.

In the run-up to the review, labor and civil rights organizations in ten countries that send migrant workers to the U.S. have joined 29 U.S.-based groups in writing to the UN committee to sound the alarm about violations of fundamental human rights of migrants when they are in the U.S. These groups are asking the UN committee to press the United States over the grim reality migrant workers here have faced for decades: employers who subject migrant workers to severe labor abuse, then use immigration enforcement as a weapon to intimidate, lock away, or deport victims and witnesses to hide the abuse.

Iconic U.S. corporations are profiting from such abuse. Case in point: in late February, the Department of Labor awarded $205,977 in back wages and liquidated damages to former student guestworkers at McDonald’s restaurants in Pennsylvania, and to the U.S. workers alongside them.

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On February 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor vindicated the J-1 student guestworker members of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) who went on strike from McDonald’s restaurants in Central Pennsylvania in March 2013. The USDOL cited the McDonald’s franchisee for minimum wage violations against 291 fast food workers, awarding them $205,977 in back wages and liquidated damages.

Below is a statement by NGA Executive Director Saket Soni:

Credit: Christine Baker |

Today, some of the most vulnerable workers in America—immigrant guestworkers—won a major victory not only for themselves, but for the U.S. workers alongside them. Brave student guestworkers from Argentina, Malaysia, and other countries defied threats of retaliation and went on strike to end the severe exploitation they faced at McDonald’s stores last year, including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, and overpriced company housing. These NGA members won $205,977 in back wages and damages not only for the 178 guestworkers who worked at these McDonald’s stores, but for 113 U.S. fast food workers alongside them, including formerly incarcerated people and political refugees.

This victory comes as tens of thousands of McDonald’s workers around the U.S. are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. McDonald’s must meet those demands.

But this victory also shows that raising wages is not enough. As long as employers like McDonald’s can use threats of retaliation and deportation to exploit immigrant workers, the wages and conditions of the U.S. workers alongside them will never be secure. But by protecting the right to organize for the most vulnerable workers, we help raise the floor for every worker in the U.S.

President Obama stressed in his State of the Union that he’s ready to take executive action to combat income inequality. That action needs to include protections for immigrant workers who come forward to expose abuse from retaliatory deportation.

And now that the DOL has vindicated these workers, McDonald’s corporate can’t hide behind its franchisee and wash its hands of the abuse. McDonald’s must:

  1. Conduct an audit of its franchisees and reveal where else guestworkers are working so that NGA can ensure they are free from abuse;
  2. Publicly commit that when any McDonald’s franchisee commits wage theft or other labor law violations, McDonald’s corporate will take responsibility by making the workers whole and punishing the franchisee; and
  3. Meet the nationwide demand for a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.

Exploitation Isn’t ‘Cultural Exchange’
Roll Call

Jennifer J. Rosenbaum
July 19, 2013

In a July 15 Roll Call opinion piece, “Don’t Devalue Exchange Programs in Immigration Reform,” Michael Petrucelli argues that the Senate immigration bill was wrong to include basic labor protections for the more than 100,000 student guestworkers who come to the U.S. each year through the J-1 visa program. Petrucelli argues that these workers aren’t really workers, but cultural exchange participants, and that the J-1 Exchange Visitor program isn’t really a guestworker program, but a tool of public diplomacy.

Mr. Petrucelli’s view of the program is several decades behind the times. The J-1 program was created in 1965 as a Cold War-era diplomatic tool—a way to convince young visitors from around the world of the virtues of American culture. But today’s J-1 student guestworkers know what even program staff now admit: the J-1 program has been transformed by employers into a vast, poorly regulated, low-wage temp worker program, where severe exploitation is par for the course.

That’s precisely why immigration reform needs to extend basic labor protections to future J-1 guestworkers — together with all immigrant workers.

Abuse in the J-1 program became too big to ignore in the summer of 2011, when 400 student guestworkers went on strike from the Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, Pa., protesting brutal conditions, sub-minimum wage pay and a complete lack of any cultural exchange. The story demonstrated how major U.S. corporations were exploiting the program as a way to undercut local workers: the positions the students filled had previously been permanent, living-wage jobs with a union contract. Then Hershey’s fired those workers and used layers of subcontractors to replace them with a year-round succession of exploitable J-1 students.

In the aftermath of the Hershey revelation, the U.S. State Department, which administers the J-1 visa program, admitted that the program was out of control:

“In the midst of unfettered program growth, ECA lost sight of the original intent of some J visa programs,” the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General wrote in February 2012. “The OIG team questions the appropriateness of allowing what are essentially work programs to masquerade as cultural exchange activities.”

The State Department made some changes to the J-1 Summer Work Travel program to try to curb employer abuse, including barring the construction, manufacturing and food processing industries from the program. Acknowledging how far the program had fallen from its original purpose, the State Department said that future job placements “must provide opportunities for participants to interact regularly with U.S. citizens and experience U.S. culture during the work portion of their programs.”

The changes didn’t go far enough. This February, another major case of J-1 program abuse emerged at McDonald’s restaurants in Central Pennsylvania. Again, in place of “cultural exchange,” student guestworkers from around the world faced sub-minimum wage pay and overpriced, substandard housing. The abuse sparked a day of protest against McDonald’s labor abuse in more than 30 countries this June.

Mr. Petrucelli says that as immigration reform moves forward, “it will be important to remain mindful of those things that add value to the nation.” He’s right.

Every time a J-1 guestworker defies threats of firing and deportation to come forward and expose abuse, it adds value to the nation. It protects the job quality of tens of millions of U.S. workers by preventing a race to the bottom.

The worker protections in the Senate bill were supported by J-1 sponsors who agree that there is no place for workplace exploitation in the program. Mr. Petrucelli is in the minority in his support for the worst kind of “cultural exchange” — one that rewards abusive employers and offers students no protections.

The provisions received bipartisan support in the Senate, as they should in the House. Anyone who believes in the value of true cultural exchange as well as the dignity of work — for immigrant and U.S. workers — should support them.

Au pair groups, others fight Senate immigration rules
USA Today

Fredreka Schouten
June 20, 2013

The Senate immigration debate has unleashed a little-known advocacy group: The foreign nanny lobby.

Au pair agencies have joined summer camp operators, hotels and an array of other companies that rely on cultural-exchange programs to provide their businesses with overseas labor to lobby against provisions in the Senate immigration bill aimed at regulating recruitment practices.

The immigration measure, now being debated on the Senate floor, would require third-party brokers and others who bring foreign workers to register with the U.S. government and would bar those recruiting agencies from collecting any fees from foreign workers. Other provisions also could make companies that sponsor foreign workers liable for violations committed by overseas subcontractors.

Labor and anti-trafficking groups say the measures are needed to better protect workers and come after highly publicized cases in which foreign college students living in Pennsylvania complained they paid high fees to recruiters and instead of gaining cultural enrichment performed menial work at a chocolate packing plant and fast-food restaurants.

The students’ protests put a spotlight on the U.S. State Department-run program, which brought nearly 92,000 students to the USA last year on “summer-work travel” visas and another 13,789 foreign au pairs, federal records show.

Critics argue the Cold War-era exchange program has morphed into a source of cheap, foreign labor with too little federal oversight.

The summer-work travel program is designed make it easier for foreign college students to defray their expenses by working in the USA while having the chance to learn more about the country, interact with Americans and improve their English skills. Employers who hire students through the summer-work program do not have to first offer the job to an American worker. Businesses also save money because they don’t have to pay unemployment taxes, Medicare or Social Security.

“This program is a scam,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on the Senate floor this week. “It is not a cultural-exchange program. It is displacing young American workers at a time of double-digit employment among young people, and it is putting downward pressure on wages at a time when the American people are working longer hours for lower wages.”

Corporations that use these visas say existing regulations are sufficient to deal with a handful of bad actors and argue the new requirements jeopardize their businesses by not allowing them to pass on the cost of administering the program to the foreign visa holders.

“If students were being widely abused, would 100,000 come every year?” said Michael McCarry, executive director of the Alliance for International Educational & Cultural Exchange, a trade group. “I don’t think so.”

Supporters of the program have stepped up their lobbying in recent weeks.

Au pair agencies are rallying parents to send form letters to senators to exempt au pairs and other cultural-exchange visa holders from the proposed regulations. One recent letter to host families complained that the bill treats au pairs as ” ‘workers’ not as the cultural-exchange participants they are.”

In Wisconsin Dells, a popular vacation area in the south-central part of the Wisconsin, about 200 workers – or nearly a third of the workforce at Noah’s Ark water park and its 300-room motel – were hired through the summer-exchange visa program this year, said Amy Muller, the park’s director of marketing.

Muller has sent letters to her state’s U.S. senators, urging them to block the new regulations.

Starting pay for U.S. and foreign workers alike is $8 an hour, she said. Muller said the water park “recruits at every college and high school we can” but can’t find enough American workers willing to work at a small-town park that’s only open three months each year.

The State Department recently tightened employment restrictions, barring students, for instance, from being placed to work at fish canneries and factories. Susan Pittman, a department spokeswoman, said the agency also has increased the number of surprise visits it makes to work sites.

Last week, the agency sanctioned GeoVisions, a New Hampshire corporation that arranged for foreign students to work at several McDonald’s franchises in Pennsylvania. The federal government imposed a 15% reduction on the number of students GeoVisions can sponsor. The restriction will remain in place for two years.

The State Department’s action came after more than a dozen students staged protests in March, claiming they were exploited by the owner of the franchises, Andy Cheung. One of the college students, Jorge Rios, 27, said he paid $1,200 to GeoVisions and another $1,800 in travel expenses and other costs to come to the USA from Argentina under the exchange program.

Rios said he was forced to live with five other men in an unfinished basement owned by Cheung, worked fewer hours than he had been promised and paid $75 a week to his employer for rent — about half his weekly earnings. He said when he complained, restaurant managers told him: ” ‘We are a phone call away from sending you back home.'”

Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced it had cut ties with Cheung. Neither GeoVisions officials nor Cheung returned phone calls Thursday.

McCarry, of the industry alliance, said “it’s wrong to say these problems are emblematic of the program.”

“The program is about cultural exchange,” he said. “The work enables the experience, but doesn’t define it.”

Rios, now back in school in Argentina, said Congress should weigh more restrictions. “I think it’s a dangerous thing to mix diplomacy with business,” he said. “It’s as if the United States government is the recruiter of a cheap labor workforce.”

Labor journalists Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe discuss the NGA’s #McDonald’sMustPay Global Day of Action on their weekly podcast Belabored.
By Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe
Podcast (belabored): Download

Subscribe to the Belabored RSS feed here. Subscribe and rate on iTunes here. Tweet at @dissentmag with #belabored to share your thoughts, or join the conversation on Facebook. Belabored is produced by Natasha Lewis.

Kicking off a new regular feature on Belabored, Josh and Sarah provide a detailed explainer on wage theft. What is it, why and how do bosses get away with it, and how do we stop it? Explainers will be a part of the show going forward, so send us your questions, suggestions, and terms you’d like to hear defined. Hashtag, as always, #belabored.

They also discuss the uprisings in Turkey and the role of labor unions, international actions targeting McDonald’s, the ongoing conflict at Palermo’s Pizza, and an independent organizing campaign at an upscale New York deli.

Labor abuse complaints lodged by midstate foreign student workers help spur federal legislation

Eric Veronikis
June 10, 2013

Labor abuse complaints lodged by foreign students who worked for two central Pennsylvania employers during the past two years helped produce legislation pending in the U.S. Senate, which advocates said would “go a long way” toward preventing similar situations in the future.

International students who worked for a third-party vendor at a Hershey Co. packing plant in Palmyra, and students employed by a Middletown-based McDonald’s franchisee, held a series of work-stoppage protests in August 2011 and March of this year.

The students said they paid exorbitant fees to participate in a cultural work exchange program through the U.S. Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program, which provided little cultural enrichment and ample amounts of backbreaking work for little pay.

The latest controversy involved students working at some midstate McDonald’s franchises who were being housed in properties owned by the restaurants’ proprietor, Andy Cheung.

Following a protest organized March 6 with help from the National Guestworker Alliance at Cheung’s golden arches on Trindle Road in Hampden Township, international students filed complaints with the U.S. Department of State.

They said Cheung forced them to work double and triple shifts without overtime, while stuffing up to eight at a time in the basements of his houses, where they lived as he deducted rent from their minimum wage paychecks.

To promote the passage of Senate Bill 744, which would establish safeguards and severe penalties against recruiters and employers who take advantage of foreign workers, students formerly employed at the Hershey’s site and at Cheung’s restaurants, and anti-labor abuse advocates spoke about the need for program reform during a Monday morning teleconference with reporters.

“Some of the students were really afraid, and didn’t want to be part of (the protests),” said Decibal Bilan, a Romanian student who worked at Hershey’s Palmyra packing plant. “Now, after all this, I hope this should change, and new law should offer support.”

S. 744 has received bi-partisan support, and the Senate is expected to adopt the measure before it adjourns for its July 4 recess.

The legislation, which was crafted by four Republicans and four Democrats who have been dubbed the “Gang of Eight,” was taken up by the Senate, on Monday. It’s considered an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.

The U.S. House is expected to take up its own immigration legislation in August, and hearings could produce a law that would instill more protection for students in the U.S. Department of State program by the fall.
S. 744 also speaks to the human trafficking epidemic that exists in the United States, and would include protections for migrant workers.

It would do the following to protect foreign student workers:

  • Create a registration requirement, which would force foreign worker recruiters to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to identify and register the employees they are recruiting;
  • Require a background check of recruiters to ensure they haven’t broken the law;
  • Require recruiters to post bond to cover the wages of workers they employ;
  • Require recruiters to identify employers, the work students will do and the wages and type of visas they will use;
  • Allow workers to bring complaints to DHS, with the ability to file civil charges.
  • Limit recruiter fees;
  • Bar recruiters who violate SB744 from the program for a period of time;
  • Protect workers against retaliation and deportation, both of which have been threatened by employers, as cases are investigated;
  • Carry fines of $10,000 per violation in civil lawsuits. Fines could be imposed per worker. Statutory penalties of up to $500,000 also could be imposed.

Much of the public controversy has centered on jobs in the hospitality industry, but similar situations have surfaced in the teaching and health care fields, according to experts who participated in Monday’s discussion.

A worker would have three years to file a complaint with DHS, under S. 744.

And if a decision has not been made within 180 days of filing a complaint, the worker could file a grievance against the employer with a federal District Court, said Sarah Rempel, policy attorney for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc.

“We are all clear on what has been reported in media. These provisions should easily gain bipartisan support,” Rempel said of whether similar legislation will win approval in the House.

“What has been striking to our group is that regardless of sector, or visa category, there are common abuses” covered by S. 744.

Bruce Goldstein, president of advocacy organization, Farmworker Justice, said many employers prefer guest workers over American workers, who are not under the same economic pressures and put up with terrible working conditions for fear of losing their jobs and being deported.

Ingrid Cruz, a teacher from the Phillippines, paid more than $15,000 for an opportunity to become a robotics teacher in Louisiana.

She and other foreign teachers working in Louisiana paid recruiting agencies between $15,000 to $20,000 to teach in the U.S.

After taking on high-interest loans and even selling family dwellings at home, some foreign teachers were forced to sign one-sided contracts that favored the recruitment agencies, she said.

They also had to contend with high rent and visa violations created by the same agency, she said.

“I can still remember how difficult it was to sign a one-sided contract, with conditions only favorable to this agency,” Cruz said. “Considering we were left with nothing to go back to, we were left with no other choice at this time.”

The U.S. Department of Labor has confirmed that it is investigating the complaints filed by seven of the foreign student workers employed by Cheung.

And the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the Summer Work Travel Program, is nearing the end of its investigation of GeoVisions, the New Hampshire-based host company that worked with Cheung to bring the students to the midstate, a bureau official said.

When asked to comment on the student allegations, Cheung, who is still operating his restaurants but is in the process of selling the six midstate locations at the request of McDonald’s Corp., said he has yet to receive any type of reprimand from authorities.

Should it be adopted, S. 744 has key protections that would allow workers to remain in the U.S. and participate in investigations as worker abuse complaints are investigated, Goldstein said.

“We believe this bill is a huge step forward,” he said.

Check out NGA’s Flickr page for more photos from the Global Day of Action


Chicago Workers Protest Low Wages, Treatment of McDonald’s Employees On Global Day Of Action (VIDEO)

Progress Illinois

“Unfortunately, McDonald’s has continued to claim that they treat their workers with dignity and respect, and there’s a lot of opportunity, when in fact most of these workers have no benefits, they’re earning the minimum wage, they have no sick leave,” he said.


International guestworkers protest against McDonald’s for labor abuse allegations

“On Thursday, protests were held in more than 30 countries targeting McDonald’s for alleged labor abuse against international student guestworkers.”


Unite Union to Join Global Day of Action against McDonald’s

“So that is how he spoilt all my work visa by misusing me and when I am nearly finishing visa, who can give me job at this time.”

Action de solidarité au restaurant McDonald’s

FGTB Horval – Belgium

Cet établissement a été choisi, parce que il s’agit du premier restaurant de Mc Donald’s ouvert en Belgique. Une journée mondiale d’action se déroule aujourd’hui dans les restaurants de Mc Donald’s dans plus de 30 pays aux quatre coins du monde.


Belabored Podcast #9: Who Stole My Wages?

Dissent Magazine

Labor journalists Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe discuss the NGA’s #McDonald’sMustPay Global Day of Action on their weekly podcast Belabored.

Images of the Day – June 6th 2013












Action de solidarité au restaurant Mc Donald’s


Cet établissement a été choisi, parce que il s’agit du premier restaurant de Mc Donald’s ouvert en Belgique. Une journée mondiale d’action se déroule aujourd’hui dans les restaurants de Mc Donald’s dans plus de 30 pays aux quatre coins du monde. 


Boca de Polen, 4-juni0-13
6 de junio, Día de Acción Global contra McDonald’s

Asociación Lationoamericana de Educación Radiofónica, 6 –junio-13
México: Día de Acción Global contra McDonald’s

La Jornada, 6-junio-2013
“Clausuran” McDonald’s del Zócalo por violación a derechos laborales

SDP Noticias, 6-junio-2013
“Clausuran McDonald’s sucursal Zócalo

El Diario de México, 6-junio-13
“Cierran” McDonald’s en el centro

24 horas. El diario sin límites, 6-junio-2013
McDonald’s del Zócalo fue “cerrado” por violar derechos laborales

Vanguardia, 6-junio-2013
McDonald’s del Zócalo capitalino fue “cerrado” por violar derechos laborales

La Jornada, 7-06-2013
Clausura simbólica de McDonald’s

Photos from the Global Day of Action

[flickrps max_num_photos=”100″ no_pages=”true”]

Protests Begin in 30+ Countries to Target McDonald’s Labor Abuse

Student guestworker fight from U.S. becomes global campaign against labor abuse, for freedom of association

WHAT:  Global day of action in 30+ countries against McDonald’s labor abuse

WHO:  National Guestworker Alliance members, current and former McDonald’s workers, global unions, and community members

WHERE: McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., Belgium, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, Slovakia, Thailand, Uruguay, and more (see for details)

WHEN: Thursday, June 6, 2013



NEW YORK, NY—A Global Day of Action against McDonald’s labor abuse began on June 6 with protests in IndonesiaIndia, and Belgium – three of more than 30 countries holding actions over the course of the day.

Workers, international unions, and community members are demanding that McDonald’s take responsibility for ending the abuse of international contract workers at its restaurants, and guarantee all its workers the freedom to organize without threats or retaliation at all 34,000 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide.

The actions mark the three-month anniversary of a historic strike by McDonald’s student guestworkers in the U.S. against labor abuse.

Joining the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) in organizing the actions are members of national and global unions, students, and human rights organizations including IUF affiliates around the globe, Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC) in Mexico, Ver.di in Germany, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) in India, and affiliates of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The March 2013 exposé of McDonald’s labor abuse against student guestworkers in the U.S. created an international media firestorm, from the Wall Street Journal to Argentina’s Misiones.

The students’ strike forced McDonald’s to cut ties with the franchisee where the students worked, but McDonald’s refused to meet with the students about ending labor abuse—even when they delivered 100,000 petitions to the CEO’s doorstep. They and their allies will demand that McDonald’s put an end abuse of international contract labor by signing an agreement with the guestworkers in its restaurants, and guarantee freedom of association for all its workers worldwide.

Cases of labor abuse at McDonald’s show the fast food giant’s failure to set even the most basic labor standards for any of the 1.8 million workers at its 34,000 restaurants around the world. McDonald’s sets standards for its franchise owners on trivial aspects of food presentation—while having no standards to protect the workers who generate $27.6 billion in annual revenue for the corporation.

“McDonald’s used a global labor supply chain to source cheap, exploitable workers from around the world and hold down wages and conditions for U.S. workers,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the NGA. “Now workers have built a global movement to challenge McDonald’s abuse and demand the right to organize against abuse.”



KahInn Lee is a former McDonald’s guestworker on the front lines of immigration reform.

A McDonald’s franchisee used KahInn and other guestworkers as a sub-minimum wage, exploitable workforce—but the workers stood up to expose the abuse and stop it.

Corporations like McDonald’s want to hugely expand guestworker programs through immigration reform, while leaving out basic protections for guestworkers and the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them in the same industries.

Stand with workers like KahInn: sign the petition to tell Congress that immigration reform must include key guestworker protections—for the sake of ALL America’s workers.

“Labor protections have to include protections from abusive employers who retaliate against workers when they blow the whistle on abuse” – NGA Lead Organizer Jacob Horwitz on MSNBC

Part One


Part Two


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