Sunday, March 24, 2013

McDonald's and the J-1 Guestworker Program

The business lobby has been pushing for a huge expansion of the guestworker programs as part of reforming America's immigration system, but there have been incidents that raise some serious questions...

McDonald’s was caught hijacking a program that’s supposed to allow young people to come to the U.S. for cultural exchange programs and professional training. Instead, the fast food giant twisted it into a source of cheap, exploitable labor.

Student workers from Asia and Latin America were required to work for as much as 25 hours at a time with no overtime. They were housed eight to a room in substandard housing and expected to be ready to turn up for work at any time with only 30 minutes' notice. And to add insult to injury, the students paid $3,000 each for the privilege.

These students came from Latin America and Asia, and were put to work at McDonald’s for take-home pay that was far lower than minimum wage after exorbitant fees were deducted for their employer-sponsored housing. If they quit or were dismissed, they would lose their visas and get deported -- a threat their boss dangled over them constantly.

But they aren’t just lying down and taking the abuse from McDonald’s. With the support of the National Guestworker Alliance, many of them walked off the job at a McDonald’s in Pennsylvania in protest. McDonald’s took notice and quickly released a statement promising to investigate the situation.

This fight is far from over. The company needs to listen to its workers and investigate whether other stores are also exploiting guest workers. And above all, it needs to commit to end these abuses and compensate the students. So we need to act now, while this issue is still hot, to let McDonald’s know that its customers care that it is using cheap labor to pad its profits, instead of treating all its workers fairly.

Now, the students are taking their campaign on the road. They went to New York to deliver a petition at the Times Square McDonald's with the fast food workers who went on strike last year. Afterwards, McDonald's announced it would cut ties with the franchisee the students worked for, Andy Cheung. This is an important admission by McDonald's, but new management in three stores in Pennsylvania isn't nearly enough -- McDonald's needs to ensure that each and every one of its stores is free of this kind of abuse.

Now the students are heading to McDonald’s corporate headquarters outside Chicago to demand a meeting with CEO Don Thompson. All along the way, they’ll be delivering petitions to McDonald’s managers -- and the more of us that sign, the bigger the impact will be.

The students were visiting the U.S. as part of a State Department program called the J-1 visa, and this isn’t the first time a big corporation has taken advantage of it. In 2011, hundreds of student guest workers walked out of a Hershey’s packing plant where they had suffered the same sorts of abuses, prompting an investigation by the State Department and a settlement from the Department of Labor.

The business lobby has been pushing for a huge expansion of the guestworker programs as part of reforming America's immigration system, but there have been incidents that raise some serious questions about corporations’ willingness to respect workers' rights. Now is the time to show companies like McDonald’s that they can’t get away with abusing guestworkers.

* FULL STORY at THE NATION: "McDonald's Guest Workers Stage a Surprise Strike"
by Josh Eidelson on March 6, 2013

by Rob Wohl at www. SumOfUs.org

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