I guess working for Hershey’s chocolate isn’t as sweet as it sounds. Foreign students staged a protest on August 17th to speak out against the poor labor contracts that got students stuck packing chocolate in a distribution center for 40 hours per week and after deductions in housing, only earned $40 to $140 per week.
Stephen Boykewich, as spokesman for the National Guestworker Alliance, stated the students were recruited from their home countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia for the opportunity to improve their English while visiting the U.S.. The students say they were not given any cultural exposure and have not been given any opportunity to earn back the money they paid to work for Hershey’s and to find their ways back home, leaving them in as captive workers. Not only are these students fighting for their own interests, but they are bringing attention to the fact that Hershey’s is exploiting foreign labor to avoid paying local Pennsylvanians fair wages and benefits for jobs they could be offering to Americans. These jobs used to be American jobs backed by unions paying $18 an hour.
According to reports, Hershey’s has threatened the students with deportation and has tried to cut off the students from contacting their parents.
When news sources tried to investigate the situation, Hershey’s said they didn’t hire the student directly, nor did the company that manages the distribution factory, nor did the staffing agency who says they just “handle the payroll.” Sources eventually found their way to the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA), but they couldn’t be reached for comment.
News reports say that the protest organizers have been arrested for disrupting operations during the walk out.
I’ve known some refugees in France learn French in a factory setting internships, but they don’t have advanced degrees, nor did they know a word of French. Additionally, they are working directly with other French workers and managers, so they do end up learning French while working less than eight hours a day. From the sound of these Hershey’s students, they don’t need to learn basic English, they are looking for advanced cultural and professional experiences and it seems whoever sold them on the “opportunity” wasn’t transparent about the experience they were looking for. I do wonder if the job descriptions and financial figures were given to the students before hand. If they weren’t and just placed as factory workers, then it does seem like these students got the short end of the stick in this situation.
I know some European young professionals who are willing to pay their own way for unpaid internships in the U.S. in order to expand their English skills, but their working conditions involve offices, lots of fun travel, improved speaking skills, and a meaty resume. Mr J got his big break in the U.S. with a paid internship as an engineer which eventually led to a full time job and a Green Card. These students have the opposite of what they were hoping for.
I worked in a major chain warehouse for a summer during my college days to buy a car with cash. I was a forklift operator three days a week, eleven hours a day. They didn’t want us to work full time or get any over time in order to avoid paying more than they had to. I had very little human interaction besides seeing the rest of the crew on the loading dock and being barked at by managers and lectured each morning about improving performance to unnatural speeds. I stood 9 and a half hours each day and I ended up getting carpal tunnel by the end of that summer (which still affects me now). Taking from my first hand experience, I know these students are not getting what they need to build their careers.
What differs between me and these students was I got to take my paycheck home and I knew exactly what I was getting into – even if it was often demeaning and physically taxing.
I’ll be sticking to French and Swiss chocolate from now on.
Take a look at this video. What do you think about Hershey’s strategy to avoid hiring American laborers? Do you think this news will affect how Americans vote for the next election and how they perceive the U.S. recession?