Amazing op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, via Joe in comments. Read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:
The America that the Hershey’s workers have seen is surely not the one the J-1 visa was created to promote. But perhaps it is the America we have become. Hershey’s business strategy is a microcosm of the downsizing and subcontracting that so many American companies have pursued during the past few decades in search of ever cheaper labor.
Other guest worker programs — themselves often avenues for exploitation — are managed, however ineffectually, by the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor. They require employers to offer international workers the same wages as local workers in comparable jobs and to attest that no local workers are available. Not so with the J-1 visa.
Indeed, the J-1 program is attractive to employers because it is uncapped and virtually unregulated; companies avoid paying Medicare, Social Security and, in many states, unemployment taxes for workers hired through the program. One sponsor authorized by the State Department even offers a “payroll taxes savings calculator” on its Web site, so potential employers can see how much they would save by hiring J-1 visa holders rather than American workers. Visa holders can be deported if they so much as complain, and cannot easily switch employers.
At a minimum, the government should preclude the use of the J-1 program as a way to obtain workers at below-market rates. If the program continues, it should be reformed to explicitly incorporate worker protections, including the right to organize, and should be supervised by the Department of Labor.
Time to pull the plug on this program, or at least provide some strict regulation. But then of course the ownership class would complain mightily about oppressive government restrictions killing jobs. Never mind that the jobs are already dead.
This is what happens when you kill unions, America.
PALMYRA, Pa. — Hundreds of foreign students, waving their fists and shouting defiantly in many languages, walked off their jobs on Wednesday at a plant here that packs Hershey’s chocolates, saying a summer program that was supposed to be a cultural exchange had instead turned them into underpaid labor.
The students, from countries including China, Nigeria, Romania and Ukraine, came to the United States through a long-established State Department summer visa program that allows them to work for two months and then travel. They said they were expecting to practice their English, make some money and learn what life is like in the United States.
In a way, they did. About 400 foreign students were put to work lifting heavy boxes and packing Reese’s candies, Kit-Kats and Almond Joys on a fast-moving production line, many of them on a night shift. After paycheck deductions for fees associated with the program and for their rent, students said at a rally in front of the huge packing plant that many of them were not earning nearly enough to recover what they had spent in their home countries to obtain their visas.
A spokesman for Hershey’s, Kirk Saville, said the chocolate company did not directly operate the Palmyra packing plant, which is managed by a company called Exel. A spokeswoman for Exel said it had found the student workers through another staffing company.
Passing the blame on to the “subcontractor” is the corporate American way these days. It’s not us! We didn’t do anything wrong! Our hands our clean! We didn’t know!
Hershey’s chocolate ain’t so sweet, at least not for these foreign student workers who found themselves exploited by the
free hand of the market corporate assholes who’d rather use foreign cheap labor than American workers. This is what happens when you destroy unions, America. Everyone suffers. As we hear on the video below, these used to be jobs held by Americans, with good pay and rights and workplace protection. Instead they go to foreign students who paid for the privilege, thinking they would get a taste of the American dream.
The students paid $3,000-$6,000 each to come to the U.S. this summer for what they thought would be a cultural exchange program through the State Department’s J-1 visa. Instead,they found themselves packing chocolates at the Hershey’s plant in deeply exploitative conditions. After automatic weekly deductions for rent in company housing and other expenses,they net between $40 and $140 per week for 40 hours of work. The workers talked about their struggle and asked for our support at the JwJ national conference.
The student guestworkers aren’t the only ones who have suffered. If Hershey hadn’t chosen to subcontract to have its chocolates packed by exploitable guestworkers,400 workers in Central Pennsylvania could have had living wage,union jobs.
And to our clueless news media more interested in covering Rick Perry’s corn dog condiment choice, fuck you. This is the kind of stuff that should be on the news, not some little social justice blog few people will see.
Oh, and don’t tell me these assholes are taxed too much.
Meet these student workers: