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The world watches the US on labor abuse – The Hill op-ed – 3-12-14 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 […]
Don’t let the U.S. ‘deport the evidence’ of labor abuse! In March 2014, the United Nations will review the U.S. record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Please join the NGA in urging the United Nations Human Rights Commission to demand that the U.S. stop “deporting the evidence” and offer reliable and enforceable protections to migrant workers who expose labor and human […]
International Labor Management charged with H2B visa fraud – WaPo – 2-22-14 Officials at N.C. company International Labor Management are charged with visa fraud The Washington Post – Feb. 20, 2014 By Ken Otterbourg VASS, N.C. — In 2008, Stanley Porter started a small company called Winterscapes LLC with a fake purpose: bringing in 150 foreign workers under the H-2B visa program to be snow makers in […]
Victory at McDonald’s! – 2-18-14 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 […]
Court upholds DOL rule to protect wages for H2B and US workers – 2-10-14 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently upheld the right of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to set prevailing wages in the H-2B guestworker program. Below is a statement by Jennifer J. Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA): “The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third […]
Welcome to the New America: Low-Wage Nation – Jan 2014 – The Nation The Nation Soon we’ll all be stuck with the unjust working conditions that immigrants face: contingent jobs, with lousy pay and few or no benefits. By Saket Soni When members of Congress come back from recess, they could put our nation’s 11.7 million undocumented immigrant workers on a path to citizenship. But if they refuse […]

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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.

Will immigration reform protect workers?

Josh Eidelson
July 17th, 2013

As House Republicans mull maiming the Senate’s immigration bill, a thousand pundits are asking what their moves will mean for future elections. Meanwhile, far from the spotlight, some courageous immigrant workers are asking whether Congress will finally disarm employers who use immigration status to silence employees. If Congress punts on immigration reform, or merely passes an industry wish list, it will have doubled-down on complicity in a little-discussed trend that’s driving down working conditions for U.S.-born and immigrant workers alike: For too many employers, immigration law is a tool to punish workers who try to organize.

The workers watching Congress include Ana Rosa Diaz, who last year was among the Mexican H-2B visa guest workers at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana, peeling crawfish sold by Walmart. Accounts from workers and an NGO assessment suggest the CJ’s workers had ample grievances, from the manager that threatened them with a shovel, to the worms and lizards in the moldy trailers where they slept, to the swamp fungus that left sticky blisters on their fingers as they raced through shifts that could last twenty hours.

To maintain that miserable status quo, workers allege, management regularly resorted to threats. The most dramatic came in May 2012, when they say CJ’s boss Mike LeBlanc showed up at the start of their 2 a.m. shift to tell them he knew they were plotting against him, and that he knew “bad men” back in Mexico, and to remind them that — through labor recruiters there — he knew where their families lived. Then LeBlanc ticked off some names, including Diaz’s daughter. Diaz told me the threat of violence was all too clear: “I’ve never been so afraid of anybody in my life.”

Long before that speech, CJ’s workers say their managers deployed an all-too-common threat, what they call the “black list”: not just being deported back to Mexico, but being prevented by recruiters there from ever working in the United States again. “That’s what makes us the bosses’ subjects,” Diaz told me in a 2012 interview. “We’ve realized most bosses use the same tactics…” said her co-worker Martha Uvalle. “‘I’ll send you back to Mexico. I’ll report you to immigration. You’ll never come back.’” (CJ’s Seafood did not respond to various reporters’ requests for comment last year, including mine. Efforts to reach the company for comment last week were unsuccessful.)

Guest workers aren’t the only immigrants whose bosses can wield their immigration status as a weapon. Too often, employers who’ve happily gotten rich off the labor of undocumented workers develop a sudden interest in those employees’ legal status once they start speaking up. A few days after three-year subcontracted food court employee Antonio Vanegas joined a strike in the government-owned Ronald Reagan Building, he was detained by Homeland Security and placed in a four-day immigration detention. The same day that workers at Milwaukee’s Palermo’s Pizza plant presented their boss with a union petition, management presented workers with letters stating they’d need to verify their legal status. Ten days later, Palermo’s fired 75 striking workers, arguing it was just following immigration law.

For every immigrant worker that risks retaliation, there are others that choose not to, chastened by a well-founded fear that their status will be used against them. (There’s a risk of retaliationanytime U.S. workers try to exercise workplace rights, but the threat for undocumented or guest workers is particularly acute.) That vulnerability holds back the efforts of unions and other labor groups to organize and transform low-wage industries — or even to ensure employers pay minimum wage to their workers, immigrant or otherwise. It helps explain why the center of gravity in organized labor — long the site of struggles between exclusion and equality — has swung decisively in recent decades to support immigration reform. Rather than pushing to deport immigrants, unions (including my former employer) are mostly trying to organize them. The less leverage employers have over immigrants’ legal status, the more leverage immigrant and U.S.-born workers will have to wrest dollars and dignity from their bosses together.

The Senate’s immigration bill takes a few key steps to make that easier, each of which activists expect will face strong opposition in the House. The bill features a path to citizenship that organizers expect will help disarm deportation-happy bosses by allowing millions of workers to obtain secure and equal legal status. It creates a new “W visa” program with more labor protections that advocates hope will become a template to someday replace existing guest worker programs like the H-2B. And the bill includes several anti-retaliation measures designed to stem abuse: from more chances for workers who exposed crimes to get special visas or stays of deportation, to language overturning a Supreme Court decision that prevented illegally fired undocumented workers from getting back pay.

Those pro-labor provisions already come with painful sacrifices. Even before the Senate pegged it to a militarized “border surge,” that path to citizenship was long and littered with obstacles. Those include a requirement of near-continuous employment that advocates warn could still leave immigrants especially vulnerable to retaliatory firings, and an exclusion based on criminal convictions that — combined with a mandate that employers use the controversial status-checking software e-Verify — could leave some workers more vulnerable than ever. And advocates note that the H-2B program could at least temporarily more than double in size during the bill, though it would be subject to some modest new protections.

Facing a hostile House, labor officials are framing those Senate compromises as a floor for labor language in immigration reform: “There can be no further erosion of rights, and we’re protecting that as it goes to the House,” says Ana Avendaño, the AFL-CIO’s Director of Immigration and Community Action. But the Senate provisions are more likely to be treated as a ceiling. “We’ll lose all of the worker protection stuff in the House,” said a different advocate working on immigration for a union, and then “hope that reason prevails in the conference” committee tasked with reconciling Senate and House legislation.

The CJ’s Seafood story has an unusual ending: After their boss’s implied threat to their families, Diaz and seven of her co-workers mounted an against-the-odds strike. “We felt,” Diaz told me, “that if we didn’t do something to stop this, sometime in the future, it would be our children going through it.” You won’t find much such courage in Congress.

Protect rights of immigrant whistle-blowers

Saket Soni
June 25, 2013

Last week, federal immigration authorities seized more than a dozen 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia. Authorities charged that the stores’ franchisees “brutally exploited” more than 50 undocumented immigrant workers. The workers allegedly worked up to 100 hours a week, for as little as $3 an hour. They were forced to live in housing the employers owned and controlled, authorities said.

For many, it was a shock. An iconic American corporation was allegedly profiting from what the U.S. attorney’s office called a “modern-day plantation system.” Prosecutors are seeking $30 million in forfeiture, not only from the franchisees but also from the 7-Eleven parent corporation.

The real shock should be how common cases such as this have become.

Millions of immigrant workers are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, because employers can threaten them with retaliatory firing and deportation to silence complaints. In this context, the allegations that 7-Eleven ran a “plantation system” for 13 years sounds more plausible.

Consider: In March, workers from several nations filed federal complaints describing similar exploitation at McDonald’s restaurants in central Pennsylvania. The workers, students who had come to the United States with J-1 visas to work under the Summer Work Travel Program, reported brutal conditions, wage theft and shifts of up to 25 hours straight with no overtime pay. They said they were made to live in substandard housing owned by the employer, and faced threats of deportation when they raised concerns.

In June 2012, another group of immigrant workers alleged forced labor at a Louisiana Walmart supplier called C.J.’s Seafood. Supervisors threatened to beat them with a shovel, they said, to make them work faster, and when they spoke up, the boss allegedly threatened violence against their families.

Recent debate on the Senate floor also recalled an emblematic 2011 case of exploitation at a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in Pennsylvania. There, immigrant guest workers said in a federal complaint that they earned subminimum wage take-home pay and faced constant threats of firing and deportation.

Among the many similarities in these cases, most striking is that all four came to light because immigrant workers defied threats and blew the whistle. When they did, they stood up not just for themselves, but for U.S. workers as well.

In a recent national survey of 1,000 registered voters by CAMBIO (a coalition of pro-reform groups of which the National Guestworker Alliance is a member), 75% agreed that “if employers are allowed to get away with mistreating immigrant workers, it ends up lowering wages and hurting conditions for American workers as well.” Eighty percent agreed that “immigrant workers who blow the whistle on abusive employers are helping defend workplace standards, and should have the opportunity to stay in the U.S. to work toward citizenship.”

Right now, protections for immigrant whistle-blowers are weak. Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely ignores a memorandum from its director, John Morton, allowing it not to pursue deportation against whistle-blowers. In New Orleans, 26 workers who helped expose exploitation in the Louisiana home elevation industry were arrested in an immigration raid in August 2011, and most are still fighting their deportations today. Across the country, workers who have been the victims of exploitation — and have come forward to stop it — are treated as disposable.

Immigration reform needs to change that. First, as the bill moves through the Senate and on to the House of Representatives, it needs to include provisions that deliver dignity at work to the more than 7 million immigrant workers in the United States — and that keep the floor from falling for the 150 million U.S.-born workers who work alongside them. A bill called the POWER Act would provide the key protections to both. It needs to be included in the immigration reform bill.

Second, immigration reform must deliver equal rights to all immigrant workers, so that unscrupulous employers can’t pick and choose the most exploitable workers to undercut the competition. All immigrant workers who come to the United States through future guest-worker programs must have strong whistle-blower protections and the right to change employers as freely as any worker on American shores.

Raising the floor for the immigrant workers at the bottom of the U.S. economy means building a stronger, more secure economy for all workers. That’s why protecting immigrant workers doesn’t just matter for immigrants. It matters for every worker in America.

The following statement was released by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance, on June 24, 2013:

We strongly oppose the harsh border militarization measures that have been added to the Senate immigration bill through the Corker-Hoeven Amendment. Further militarization will make border communities less safe, and waste $30 billion of taxpayer money at a time when tens of millions of U.S. workers are struggling to make ends meet.

There are existing amendments that would offset the harms of the Corker-Hoeven Amendment, and the Senate bill needs to incorporate them. These include civil rights protections for people who live in border communities, and whistleblower protections for immigrant guestworkers on H-2B visas.

Without whistleblower protections, the Corker-Hoeven Amendment will make it even easier for employers to trap guestworkers in exploitation, and to trap the U.S. workers alongside them in a race to the bottom. Currently, guestworkers’ legal status is bound to a single employer, letting employers silence worker whistleblowers by threatening firing and deportation. Corker-Hoeven includes harsh penalties on visa overstays that would make employers’ threats even more intimidating. That means more labor abuse, fewer whistleblowers, and falling wages and conditions for U.S. workers. Strong whistleblower protections for H-2B guestworkers would provide a check on this abuse.

We urge senators to open up a path to include these crucial civil and labor rights protections before the bill is finalized. Americans overwhelmingly want immigration reform that protects the rights of all America’s workers, whether immigrant or U.S.-born. U.S. immigration policy needs to reflect that.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich,, 323-594-2347

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.

Will Corporations Win More Exploitable Workers?
The Huffington Post – Op-Ed

Saket Soni
June 11, 2013

If the business lobby has its way, immigration reform will bring one group of immigrant workers out of the shadows while trapping another in exploitation.

Corporations have fought hard to make sure immigration reform includes as many guestworkers as possible with as few labor protections as possible: an endless stream of cheap, exploitable labor.

In an op-ed in Roll Call this Monday, NGA Legal and Policy Director J.J. Rosenbaum explains how the current Senate bill puts future immigrant workers at risk:

The current Senate bill would provide one small category of guestworkers–those on the proposed W visa–whistleblower protections and the ability to change employers without losing legal status. But the bill risks leaving hundreds of thousands of guestworkers subject to captive labor. And lobbyists are pushing to make sure that there are as many of those guestworkers as possible.

Over the past week, guestworker recruiters have raced to Capitol Hill to argue that key worker protections shouldn’t apply to the J-1 student guestworker program. In fact, the J-1 program has been the site of some of the most egregious cases of guestworker abuse.

Last week, I introduced you to KahInn Lee, a J-1 student guestworker from Malaysia who helped expose one of them. KahInn paid $3,000 to participate in the J-1 program, then found herself working at a McDonald’s in Central Pennsylvania, facing sub-minimum wage pay, shifts of up to 25 hours with no overtime pay, and threats of firing and deportation to suppress complaints.

Thousands of guestworkers across visa categories face this kind of exploitation. Jorge Rios, another McDonald’s student guestworker, told journalists this week: “In our case we depended on these jobs only for three months, but there are many people who depend on these jobs for their whole life.”

Even without whistleblower protections, KahInn and her fellow student guestworkers were brave enough to join the NGA and took action. They went from a strike in the streets of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the halls of Capitol Hill to the front door of the McDonald’s CEO. Last week they took their fight worldwide, helping organize a Global Day of Actionagainst McDonald’s abuse of guestworkers in more than 30 countries.

Members of Congress are finally taking notice. Senator Bernie Sanders told his colleagueslast week: “I fear very much that this J-1 program is being exploited by corporations like Hershey’s and McDonald’s as an effort to simply bring students from abroad to work at low-paying jobs in the United States.”

So what can the Senate do today to protect tomorrow’s guestworkers from captive labor? How can it protect the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them in the same sectors from being trapped in a race to the bottom? J.J. explains:

Severe exploitation of guestworkers has become commonplace across visa categories. As the Senate makes the final changes to its immigration bill … it needs to include strong worker protections for all guestworkers, regardless of visa program or industry. That includes whistleblower protections for workers who come forward to expose employer abuse, the ability for guestworkers to change employers without losing legal status, and rules that prevent recruiters from profiting from exploitation.

Please tell Congress that immigration reform needs to protect guestworkers–for their sake, and for the future of the U.S. workers alongside them.


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.

No More Captive Workers
Jennifer J. Rosenbaum

Roll Call
June 10, 2013

As the Senate votes this week on amendments to the immigration bill drafted by the “gang of eight,” it needs to make sure that it doesn’t bring one group of immigrant workers out of the shadows while trapping another in captive labor.

Hundreds of guestworkers have emerged from labor camps across America in recent years to expose severe labor abuse in federal temporary worker programs. From food processing to construction, from the Wal-Mart seafood supply chain to the Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant, guestworkers have revealed how employers and their recruiters abuse guestworker programs as a source of cheap, exploitable labor. When they do, they also drive down wages and conditions for tens of millions of U.S. workers who work alongside guestworkers.

Americans understand this connection, which is why they overwhelmingly support including guestworker protections in immigration reform. In a recent national poll by the CAMBIO coalition, 75 percent agreed that “if employers are allowed to get away with mistreating immigrant workers, it ends up lowering wages and hurting conditions for American workers as well.” Eighty perfect agreed that “immigrant workers who blow the whistle on abusive employers are helping defend workplace standards and should have the opportunity to stay in the U.S. to work towards citizenship.”

The current Senate bill would provide one small category of guestworkers — those on the proposed W visa — whistle-blower protections and the ability to change employers without losing legal status. But the bill risks leaving hundreds of thousands of guestworkers subject to captive labor. And lobbyists are pushing to make sure that there are as many of those guestworkers as possible.

Over the past week, guestworker recruiters have raced to Capitol Hill to argue that key worker protections shouldn’t apply to the J-1 student guestworker program. In fact, the J-1 program has been the site of some of the most egregious cases of guestworker abuse.

In August 2011, hundreds of J-1 student guestworkers from around the world joined the National Guestworker Alliance and went on strike from a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in Pennsylvania. They had been recruited from universities around the world, and had paid $3,000-6,000 apiece for promises of a cultural exchange and dignified work. Instead found themselves packing chocolates for Hershey’s under brutal conditions, living in squalid, overpriced housing and facing threats of retaliatory firing and deportation from recruiters and supervisors.

The State Department ultimately barred Hershey’s labor recruiter CETUSA from the J-1 Summer Work Travel program. But there were other unscrupulous recruiters ready to take its place — and other major American corporations ready to profit from exploitation.

In March, just blocks from where the Hershey’s student guestworkers had been housed, J-1 student guestworkers went on strike from three McDonald’s restaurants in Central Pennsylvania. They too had faced brutal work conditions — including shifts of up to 25 hours straight with no overtime pay — as well as wage theft, inadequate housing and threats of deportation when they raised concerns.

These stories of guestworker abuse reached the pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. They reached guestworkers’ home countries, 30 of which hosted a global day of protest on June 6 against the abuse of guestworkers at McDonald’s.


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

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