Posts Tagged ‘Hershey’s Chocolate Company’

Exploitation Isn’t ‘Cultural Exchange’ – Op-Ed by NGA’s Jennifer Rosenbaum

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.

 http://www.rollcall.com/news/exploitation_isnt_cultural_exchange_commentary-226475-1.html?pg=2

The NYT, the White House, and Worker Protections

On Feb. 21, the New York Times published an editorial entitled “Immigration Reform and Workers’ Rights.” Below is a response by National Guestworker Alliance Executive Director Saket Soni:

Today’s New York Times editorial is an important affirmation of what millions of immigrant workers know, and what the White House has recognized in its own immigration blueprint: strong labor and civil rights protections have to be the cornerstone of any immigration reform.

The New York Times, like the Obama administration, has stood up for the principles of the POWER Act, including protections for whistleblowers and the right of immigrant workers to organize against employer abuse. U.S. workers need these protections as much as immigrants workers do: without them, immigrant workers become a captive workforce, which drives down wages and conditions for all workers.

The National Guestworker Alliance has exposed employer abuse, retaliation, and blacklisting against thousands of immigrant workers in federal guestworker programs. This includes forced labor by guestworkers at Wal-Mart supplier CJ’s Seafood, captive labor by student guestworkers at a Hershey’s Chocolate plant, and ICE’s collusion with an oil services company to retaliate against trafficked guestworkers.

Without the worker protections in the POWER Act, immigration reform risks creating a permanent underclass of millions exploitable workers. Employers will continue to use immigration enforcement as a weapon against workers who organize for their labor and civil rights.

We look forward to ensuring that strong labor protections, the right to organize, and freedom from fear of retaliation are included in any immigration reform.

Background

Contact: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org718-791-9162

Walmart Strikes Spread, Build on NGA Victory – The Nation – 11/16/12

Walmart Strike Spreads to Texas as Organizers Promise Massive Black Friday Protest

Josh Eidelson on November 16, 2012 – 9:10 AM ET

This morning, at 10 am local time, Dallas Walmart store workers are headed back to the picket line. Theirs is the latest in a string of strikes that hit a California warehouse Wednesday and Seattle stores on Thursday. There’s more where that came from: On a Thursday call with reporters, union-backed Walmart worker groups said to expect a thousand strikes or demonstrations spread over nine days, culminating in an unprecedented array of “Black Friday” disruptions. That news follows a major legal settlement by a Walmart contractor that organizers credited to a 2011 sit-in at Hershey’s Chocolate.

Dallas striker Colby Harris emphasized that despite issues with low pay and repeated retaliation, he’s committed to remaining a Walmart worker. “If you leave this job, you’re going to face retaliation in some form somewhere else…” he said last night. “If you change Walmart, and you change corporate America, it can really better a lot of people’s lives.”

Harris told The Nation that the main purpose of today’s picketing outside his Dallas store is to send a message to the workers inside: that “you can speak up and not get punished.” What if Walmart retaliates? “We’ll just take more actions…” said Harris. “It will not be accepted or tolerated.” He said that going on strike last month heightened his confidence: “I’m not as nervous to take actions now. I know I’ve done it before…I can do it again.”

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Student Workers at Hershey Facility Win Back Wages – AP – 11/14/12

Student Workers at Hershey Facility Win Back Wages

By Peter Jackson, Associated Press

November 14, 2012

Three companies have agreed in a settlement to pay more than $213,000 in back wages to hundreds of foreign students for summer jobs they held at a Hershey candy company facility, the U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday.

The settlement also requires two of the companies to pay fines totaling $148,000.

The Hershey Co., whose sweet treats include Kit Kat and Reese’s peanut butter cups, owns the warehouse and distribution center but was not cited for violations because it contracts out the operation of it to another company, Exel Inc., Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman said.

Westerville, Ohio-based Exel, Lemoyne-based SHS Group and the San Clemente, Calif.-based Council for Educational Travel USA agreed to pay $213,042 in back wages to 1,028 foreign students who held summer jobs repackaging candy for promotional displays. The payout is an average of $207 per student.

The three companies overcharged the students for housing, reducing their wages below what they were supposed to be paid, the department said.

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NGA Wins New Protections for Wal-Mart, Hershey’s Supply Chain Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 14, 2012—As the latest victory in a year-long fight by the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) against supply chain labor abuse, warehouse operator Exel Logistics agreed with the Department of Labor (DOL) on Wednesday to new worker protections for Exel’s more than 300 U.S. warehouses.

Exel, which has $4.1 billion in annual revenue, operates warehouses for major U.S. retailers including Wal-Mart and Hershey’s. Wal-Mart is facing growing pressure and nationwide strikes over supply chain labor abuses as Black Friday approaches.

The DOL agreement came in response to a strike and legal complaints by the NGA over serious labor abuses in a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in summer 2011. In previous response to the NGA complaints, the U.S. State Department debarred Hershey’s labor recruiter CETUSA from the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, and overhauled J-1 program rules to add substantial protections for student guestworkers.

The new DOL agreement requires Exel, staffing agency SHS, and labor recruiter CETUSA to pay back $213,000 in illegal deductions from wages to student guestworkers who worked in the Hershey’s plant. It also requires Exel to pay $143,000 in fines for health and safety violations.

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