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A Not So Sweet American Summer: Foreign Students Protest Working Conditions at Hershey's Factory


On Wednesday, more than 200 student-guest workers from countries as far flung as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Moldova walked out of a Hershey's packaging warehouse in Pennsylvania and began a protest against the low-wages and extensive hours they've experienced while working there. As part of a foreign labor exchange program, the students paid up to $6,000 to work in the U.S. under the J-1 visa program, learn English, and enjoy the best parts of American culture. What they got was a true taste of today's culture of worker exploitation -- and threats from supervisors if they retaliate.  

From LDN News :

Under the arrangement, the students spent between $3,000 and $6,000 to come to the United States in exchange for the opportunity to immerse themselves in American culture by working in a job for three months. Instead, the protesters claim, their minimum-wage factory jobs barely cover the rent for the small apartments they share two to a room, leaving little money or time leftover to enjoy the American experience.They also claim their exploitation is a result of The Hershey Company's effort to arrange for cheap labor instead of providing life-sustaining wages to local workers.The students demanded The Hershey Company compensate the guestworkers by paying for their travel expenses and called for returning good paying jobs to local residents.

Today, on day three of the strike, a human rights commission arrived to investigate the claims, and the protesters got support from rallies in four American cities. More from National Guestworker Alliance

After winning overwhelming community support on the second day of their strike, hundreds of Hershey’s J-1 student workers prepared for the arrival at 1 p.m. Friday, August 19, of an independent investigative commission of experts in labor and international law from five U.S. universities. Meanwhile, community and labor supporters planned to support the workers at solidarity rallies in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago on Friday.

The commission will conduct an investigation into the labor practices of Hershey’s and its subcontractors at the Palmyra packing plant, and release its findings at the start of next week. Commission members will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. at Chocolate Workers Local 646 before beginning their investigation with in-depth interviews of the students.

Read more about the protesters' plight at the Times Unionand the inevitable finger-pointing from higher-ups at the New York Times

AlterNet / By Rae Gomes

Posted at August 19, 2011, 6:57am

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