Posts Tagged ‘strike’

Student Guestworkers Pressure McDonald’s – Labor News – 3/15/13

Student Guestworkers Pressure McDonald’s
Labor News

Jenny Brown
March, 15 2013

Foreign students on cultural exchange visas walked off the job again March 6, this time from three McDonald’s restaurants near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They were protesting shifts of up to 25 hours, wage theft, and overpriced, miserable housing.

The abuse throws a spotlight on guestworker programs just as Congress is considering an expansion of the guestworker system as part of an immigration overhaul. The National Guestworker Alliance, which helped the students organize, is pushing for legislation that would give guestworkers more labor rights.

Sixteen McDonald’s workers at three stores decided to strike after they learned about an earlier walkout by 300 student guestworkers who, like themselves, came to the U.S. on four-month J-1 cultural exchange visas.

In August 2011, student guestworkers from China, Turkey, Ukraine, and elsewhere walked out of a Hershey’s packing plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. Community leaders sat in to support the workers and the protests gained much media coverage.

The McDonald’s workers had similar complaints—either a drought of work, so they barely made enough to survive, or endless shifts, as long as 25 hours, for which they got no overtime pay. If they complained, they were threatened with deportation. The students were also expected to be available any time, with virtually no notice.

“We paid $3,000-$4,000 to come here,” said Jorge Rios, an Argentinian majoring in social communications. He said he signed a contract with GeoVisions, the firm that recruited the McDonald’s workers, that said he would get 40 hours of work a week and the possibility of more, at Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, housing, and free transport to work.

“In reality,” he said, “we were kept in basements, working 25 hours a week, and we couldn’t do anything else because we were expected to be on call all the time.”

Alicia Marin, an industrial design major from Paraguay, said she realized she had to act when one day she worked standing up 15 hours straight and supervisors wouldn’t let her take a water break. She said, “I thought, this is not my life, my real life.”

American co-workers heard the students’ complaints, said Rios, but said, “How do you think we feel? We have to take care of our families, pay our mortgages, and you come and take our hours.” U.S. workers were also not being paid the overtime premium, the students said.

In a protest outside a McDonald’s in New York City on March 14, the students also demanded justice for their U.S. co-workers, saying they should get access to full-time work. “Americans and guestworkers, our struggle is the same,” they chanted.

Ad for Capitalism

The J-1 program was originally created during the Cold War to advertise the wonders of the American system to foreign students. Judging from students’ recent experiences, the program has now become a cautionary tale.

Rios said he hadn’t heard about workers’ rights struggles in the U.S. before this. “It’s an aspect of American culture that is not really talked about on the outside—and apparently not even here,” he said.

The J-1 program has grown huge because there is no limit on the number of visas that can be issued, while other guestworker visas are capped. Employers need not even go through the motions of proving that no American workers are available for the jobs.

Guestworkers under the H-2A (agricultural) and H-2B (nonagricultural) programs account for around 105,000 workers every year, while the J-1 program brings 130,000 students into low-wage jobs for three-month stints, followed by a month to explore the U.S. (Another 200,000 J-1 visas are issued to year-long trainees and interns.)

However, striking students have said that after three months of minimum wages, wage theft, and inflated rents, they are too broke to travel. The McDonald’s students are demanding they be paid the wages they were owed, including overtime pay that was stolen, and a refund from GeoVisions of their initial $3,000 payments. They also want GeoVisions banned from the J-1 program.

Recruitment firms enlist the students with flashy ads and internationalist rhetoric. The website for GeoVisions talks about “greater cooperation and understanding among nations and peoples of the world.”

No Improvement

Extensive press coverage of the abuses that led to the Hershey’s strike made a mockery of the idea of cultural exchange—one newspaper called the program “sweatshop diplomacy.” In response, the State Department changed its policy to require that the recruitment agencies check in with students every month.

That didn’t work, the McDonald’s strikers said, because when they complained, the agency contacted their boss instead of them.

Fernando Acosta, a marketing major from Paraguay, said the students first complained to GeoVisions in January. Rios then sent the same complaint letter to the State Department, his embassy, GeoVisions, and the National Guestworker Alliance. The Alliance was the only one who responded.

GeoVisions instead wrote to their boss, Andy Cheung, who owns seven McDonald’s franchises in the area. Then a GeoVisions executive showed up, the students said, but he seemed to be scared of making Cheung mad.

“They care about making money, not providing a nice cultural exchange,” said Rios.

After press coverage of the students’ protests—and presumably pressure from McDonald’s brand-conscious corporate headquarters—Cheung has said he will sell his stores.

Cheung and his son also owned some of the housing the students lived in. Like the Hershey’s workers, they were overcharged and overcrowded. In one case, four men and four women shared a basement with only a curtain for privacy.

Acosta, who lived in a house with several others, said that managers told them to keep the lights out in case police came by, because the crowding violated the law. “Managers know this situation is completely illegal,” he said. Rent for such quarters was around $2,000 a month.

“None of us told our families that we were living under these conditions,” said Rios. “That’s a sign something was wrong.”

Alexandra Bradbury contributed to this story.

 

http://www.labornotes.org/2013/03/student-guestworkers-pressure-mcdonalds 

McDonald’s Student Guestworkers Hit Philly to Stop Labor Abuse – 3/16/13

McDonald’s Student Guestworkers Hit Philly to Stop Labor Abuse

J-1 student guestworkers demands McDonald’s protect all its workers

WHAT:  Protest by McDonald’s guestworkers, allies to end McDonald’s labor abuse
WHO:  J-1 student guestworkers; 30 labor, community allies
WHERE:  McDonald’s, 1401 Arch St. (at N. Broad St.), Philadelphia, PA 19102
WHEN: Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:30 p.m. ET
CONTACTS:  Davin Larson, 913-909-7641, davin@guestworkeralliance.org Jesse Kudler, 617-974-3684, jesse@fightforphilly.org

PHILADELPHIA, PA—At 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 16, J-1 student guestworkers who exposed severe exploitation and retaliation at McDonald’s restaurants in Central PA will demonstrate at a Philadelphia McDonald’s to demand a meeting with McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson on ending labor abuse.

McDonald’s student guestworkers from Latin America and Asia joined the National Guestworker Alliance and went on strike on Mar. 6 from the Central PA stores where they had worked, demanding that the fast food giant take responsibility for labor abuse at its restaurants.

They and their allies have demonstrated at McDonald’s stores in Pittsburgh and New York City, and the students have pledged to take their fight to McDonald’s corporate headquarters near Chicago and to the home of CEO Don Thompson. They are joined in Philadelphia by allies from Fight for Philly.

Under heavy public fire, McDonald’s announced Thursday it would sever ties with the franchisee that employed the students. The students responded:

“McDonald’s action is an important admission of labor abuse at its stores. But a change of management at three stores will not protect the guestworkers and U.S. workers at McDonald’s 14,000 other stores in the U.S. We asked McDonald’s to meet with us and our allies to come to an agreement on how to protect all McDonald’s workers. If they will not, we will come to McDonald’s headquarters on March 26 to seek a meeting. If they will not meet with us there, we will come to CEO Don Thompson’s house and ask to meet him there.”

The student guestworkers paid $3,000-4,000 apiece to participate in the U.S. State Department’s J-1 visa program, expecting decent work and a cultural exchange. Instead, McDonald’s used them as a sub-minimum wage exploitable workforce. Students faced:

  • As few as four hours of work a week at $7.25 an hour, with exorbitant housing deductions that brought their net pay far below minimum wage
  • Shifts as long as 25 hours with no overtime pay
  • Being packed into employer-owned basement housing, up to eight students to a room, for $300 each per month
  • Retaliation by McDonald’s franchisee Andy Cheung and labor supplier GeoVisions against students for exercising their labor rights, including further cuts to hours and surprise home visits

 

“The U.S. Department of Labor has registered 1,588 labor violations by McDonald’s since 2002. That tells us the exploitation of these guestworkers is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance. “As U.S. corporations push for more guestworkers through immigration reform, McDonald’s needs to lead the way by pledging to protect workers against retaliation for exercising their labor rights.”

“Employer retaliation almost blocked these students from exposing labor abuse. McDonald’s needs to disavow that retaliation and meet with the students directly,” Soni said.

LINKS

 

Andy Cheung, McDonald’s Franchisee, Forced Out After Allegations Of Worker Exploitation – The Huffington Post – 3/14/13

Andy Cheung, McDonald’s Franchisee, Forced Out After Allegations Of Worker Exploitation
The Huffington Post

Bonnie Kavoussi
March 14, 2013

A franchisee who owns three McDonald’s restaurants in Harrisburg, Pa., has left the company after allegations of worker exploitation.

Foreign guest workers — students from Asia and Latin America — employed by the franchisee, Andy Cheung, allege that he forced them to work shifts of up to 25 hours and pay steep rent for living in his and his son’s crowded basements, according to The Nation. The workers also allege that Cheung did not pay them for all of the hours they worked and that he retaliated against them for going on strike by locking them out of their living quarters.

The guest workers paid as much as $3,000 apiece to come to the U.S. on temporary visas as part of a State Department exchange program, according to the National Guestworker Alliance, which is representing the workers. The group says Cheung deducted rent from the workers’ paychecks, pushing their pay below the minimum wage.

“We were living 6 men in a basement, on bunk beds that were clearly made [for] children and one tiny bathroom,” Jorge Rios, an Argentinian college student who started working for Cheung in December, told CNNMoney. The workers have filed complaints with both the Labor Department and the State Department.

Danya Proud, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post in a Thursday statement that the company has taken action in response.

“The franchisee has agreed to leave the McDonald’s system,” Proud said. “We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously. We began investigating the situation in Pennsylvania immediately upon learning of the issues involved.”

About 20 people, including some of the guest workers, protested outside of a different McDonald’s restaurant in Times Square in New York City on Thursday, according to The Nation. If McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson does not agree to meet with them, they plan to protest outside of the company’s headquarters in Chicago and then at Thompson’s house on Mar. 26.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/14/andy-cheung-mcdonalds_n_2878174.html

After Complaints, McDonald’s Franchisee to Sell Restaurants – The Wall Street Journal – 3/14/13

After Complaints, McDonald’s Franchisee to Sell Restaurants
The Wall Street Journal

Julie Jargon
March 14, 2013

The McDonald’s Corp. franchisee who allegedly mistreated students in the U.S. on work-travel visas has agreed to sell his restaurants.

Andy Cheung, the owner of three McDonald’s restaurants in the Harrisburg, Pa., area came under fire last week after 15 international students demonstrated outside one of the restaurants and filed complaints with the State Department and Labor Department saying they were exploited and forced to live in cramped quarters.

The students came to the U.S. under the State Department’s Summer Work Travel Program, which is intended to introduce students to American culture. The students, who each paid $3,000 to participate in the program, were the subject of a Wall Street Journal article on Saturday.

The students said they were forced to share living space with several others in homes owned by Mr. Cheung or his son and that they were either given so few hours that they earned hardly any money after their boss deducted rent from their paychecks, or that they were forced to work shifts as long as 25 hours straight without being paid overtime.

“We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously. We began investigating the situation in Pennsylvania immediately upon learning of the issues involved,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman said. The franchisee “has agreed to leave the McDonald’s system,” and McDonald’s is working on contacting the workers “to most effectively address this situation,” she said.

Mr. Cheung confirmed that he is in the process of leaving McDonald’s but declined to comment further.

The students applauded Mr. Cheung’s departure from McDonald’s. But a statement issued on their behalf by the National Guestworker Alliance, a labor advocacy group, said, “a change of management at three stores will not protect the guestworkers and U.S. workers at McDonald’s 14,000 other stores in the U.S.”

McDonald’s last week said it didn’t know exactly how many such workers were employed by McDonald’s franchises in the U.S.

McDonald’s is known for keeping close tabs on its franchisees. The franchise agreements that operators sign with the company dictate that franchisees uphold McDonald’s “brand values and reputation,” a spokeswoman said.

How much money Mr. Cheung could gain from selling his restaurants depends on their condition. Richard Adams, a former McDonald’s franchisee and a franchise consultant who primarily deals with McDonald’s operators, said McDonald’s in good locations that have recently been remodeled or rebuilt can fetch $1 million.

The student workers Thursday demonstrated at a New York City McDonald’s in Times Square to demand a meeting with McDonald’s Chief Executive Don Thompson. The students are asking McDonald’s to reimburse them for the wages they say they’re owed, including the money they spent on the visas. They also want McDonald’s to offer full-time work to its U.S. workers who are struggling with limited hours and to reveal all the student workers at its stores.

The students said that if McDonald’s doesn’t meet with them and agree to add protections for McDonald’s workers, they will visit McDonald’s headquarters themselves on March 26, and that if they don’t get a meeting, they will go to Mr. Thompson’s house.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324532004578360613867975552.html

McDonald’s cuts ties with midstate operator over guest worker scandal – The Patriot News – 3/14/13

McDonald’s cuts ties with midstate operator over guest worker scandal
The Patriot News

Eric Veronikis
March 14, 2013

McDonald’s is cutting ties with midstate franchisee Andy Cheung over complaints foreign student workers recently made about him exploiting them at several of his Harrisburg-area restaurants, according to the organization that helped the students stage a protest last week at his Hampden Township location.

The National Guestworker Alliance, which organized a work-stoppage protest with help from students, issued the following statement on behalf of the guest workers who participated in the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 Visa Visitor Exchange Program while employed by Cheung:

“McDonald’s action is an important admission of labor abuse at its stores. But a change of management at three stores will not protect the guest workers and U.S. workers at McDonald’s 14,000 other stores in the U.S. We asked McDonald’s to meet with us and our allies to come to an agreement on how to protect all McDonald’s workers. If they will not, we will come to McDonald’s headquarters on March 26 to seek a meeting. If they will not meet with us there, we will come to CEO Don Thompson’s house and ask to meet him there.”

Cheung has not returned repeated interview requests over more than a week.

A McDonald’s corporate spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

However, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and The Nation reported that McDonald’s issued the news organizations the following statement:

“We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously. We began investigating the situation in Pennsylvania immediately upon learning of the issues involved,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman said. “The franchisee has agreed to leave the McDonald’s system. We are also working on connecting with the guest workers on an individual basis to most effectively address this situation.”

Cheung owns six McDonald’s throughout the midstate, and students complained of mistreatment at three of his Harrisburg-area restaurants.

It’s unclear whether the Central Pennsylvania restaurants will close or if new ownership will take over operations.

The U.S. Departments of State and Labor are investigating formal complaints guest workers filed against Cheung, who also this week resigned as the secretary of the board of trustees with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central PA.

Cheung’s McDonald’s restaurants are at the following locations:

• 4230 E. Trindle Road, Hampden Township.

• 1 Lemoyne Drive, East Pennsboro Township.

• 850 Eisenhower Blvd., Swatara Township.

• 2270 W. Harrisburg Pike, Middletown.

• 6004 Derry St., Swatara Township.

• 1284 S. Market St., Elizabethtown

 http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/03/mcdonalds_cuts_ties_with_midst.html

 


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