Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitude

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Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitude

Postby Jessica » Wed Oct 19, 2011 7:28 pm UTC

You do not get any candy this Halloween, sorry. - the link where I found this story.

Pleas Unheeded as Students’ U.S. Jobs Soured - New your times article about the same issue.

NYT article under spoiler.
Spoiler:
Pleas Unheeded as Students’ U.S. Jobs Soured
By JULIA PRESTON

The college student from Moldova was in the United States on a cultural exchange program run for half a century by the federal government, a program designed to build international understanding by providing foreign students with a dream summer of fun in America. So he summoned his best English for the e-mail he sent to the State Department in June.

“Pleas hellp,” wrote the student, Tudor Ureche. He told them about “the miserable situation in which I’ve found myself cought” since starting a job under the program in a plant packing Hershey’s chocolates near the company’s namesake town in Pennsylvania.

Students like Mr. Ureche, who had paid as much as $6,000 to take part in the program, expected a chance to see the best of this country, to make American friends and sightsee, with a summer job to help finance it all.

Instead, many students who were placed at the packing plant found themselves working grueling night shifts on speeding production lines, repeatedly lifting boxes weighing as much as 60 pounds and financially drained by low pay and unexpected extra costs for housing and transportation. Their complaints to the contractor running the program on behalf of the State Department were met with threats that they could be sent home.

Events this summer at the Hershey packing plant in Palmyra, Pa., revealed major holes in the State Department’s oversight of its summer work and travel program, the largest and most ambitious of its cultural exchanges. The program, which placed 130,000 foreign students in all sorts of jobs across the country this year, has a large impact in shaping the country’s image for young generations overseas.

The Hershey students finally got the department’s attention on Aug. 17 when 200 of them, waving placards and chanting union slogans, walked out of the plant, the first labor protest in the 50-year history of the department’s exchange programs.

The protests raised questions about whether the State Department is equipped to manage what has become a vast temporary work program, especially in times when suitable jobs for foreign students — even short-term jobs — are harder to come by as high unemployment persists in the United States.

The protests also exposed serious lapses by the Council for Educational Travel, USA, a nonprofit group based in California and one of more than 70 sponsors contracted by the State Department to organize the students’ trips to the United States and find jobs and housing for them.

The group, known as Cetusa, placed nearly 400 foreigners from 18 countries, many of them graduate students in medicine, engineering and economics, in physically arduous jobs at the Palmyra factory that were overwhelming for some.

The students, who were earning about $8 an hour, said they were isolated within the plant, rarely finding moments to practice English or socialize with Americans. With little explanation or accounting, the sponsor took steep deductions from their paychecks for housing, transportation and insurance that left many of them too little money to afford the tourist wanderings they had eagerly anticipated.

Program documents and interviews with 15 students show that Cetusa failed to heed many distress signals from students over many months, and responded to some with threats of expulsion from the program.

A Cry for Help

Mr. Ureche, 22, an engineering student, said he had begun to appeal to Cetusa for a different job as soon as he went to work lifting boxes loaded with Hershey’s candies.

“I’ve been having serious back pains since the first day of work,” Mr. Ureche reported in his e-mail to the State Department on June 6, sent two weeks after he started on the job. “If I continue in this rythm of work, it may cause me serious health damages.”

He felt “mistreated and ignored by my sponsor,” he wrote. And the organization told him, he said, that if he complained to Washington, “they will immediately cancel my visa." A few days later Mr. Ureche quit his job, making his way to New York and finding work.

When the walkout came two months later, State Department officials reacted swiftly, opening an investigation centering on Cetusa that has not yet concluded.

The department was already on notice about trouble in the program, after an Associated Press investigation last year found abuses of foreign students in several states. Officials started a broad review earlier this year, and on July 15 they inaugurated new regulations, which tighten requirements on sponsor organizations to ensure that students are matched with jobs that are appropriate and safe. A newly expanded staff of 18 inspectors will begin on-site audits of sponsor organizations this fall, officials said.

“We are asking hard questions,” said Rick Ruth, the State Department official in charge of cultural exchange programs — including whether the program should be scaled back in light of the hard times in the United States.

Cetusa responded to the protest by arranging for students to have a paid week off from the plant and by paying for two trips to historic sites in Pennsylvania. The Hershey Company hosted a daylong visit to its headquarters so students could learn about its business strategies.

“This is a beautiful, great program,” Rick Anaya, Cetusa’s chief executive, said of the cultural exchange.

Mr. Anaya said he was aware that the work in Palmyra was strenuous. “It is hard to lift,” he said. “But they get used to it and they are fine with it after a week or so.” He said all students had received and signed job descriptions before going to Palmyra. If packing work seemed too difficult, he said, “they didn’t have to sign up for the job.”

Mr. Anaya blamed the discontent on the National Guestworker Alliance, a labor group that helped organize the walkout, together with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other unions.

“It’s clear and obvious to me that this whole thing was started and fueled by the unions,” he said.

The foreign students’ travails did prove fertile ground for the alliance, an advocate for temporary foreign workers. Joined by some of the students, the alliance since August has led a campaign against the Hershey Company, accusing it of exploiting foreign students to displace American workers. Some students agreed.

“They take students who came on a cultural exchange to slave for them and make next to nothing, when these jobs could be going to families in Pennsylvania,” said Godwin Efobi, 26, a Nigerian medical student who was a protest leader.

Created under a 1961 law, the State Department’s summer work and travel program was designed to give foreign university students who do not hail from wealthy elites at home a brief plunge into American life, at no cost to the American taxpayer. The students come on a visa known as a J-1, which allows them to work for up to four months and travel for a month.

Students in the program, a legacy of the cold war, come mainly from China, Russia and Eastern European countries, with some from Latin America. Traditionally they have been employed in national parks, amusement parks, summer camps, beach resorts and restaurants, in low-wage but congenial jobs.

Over the years the program has won many happy reviews after students returned home. But in recent years it grew rapidly, to 150,000 students in 2008 from about 30,000 a decade earlier. It is now bigger than most federal programs explicitly dedicated to importing temporary foreign workers.

As a cultural exchange, the program is not monitored by labor authorities, said Daniel Costa, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington who studies the J-1 program. Unlike the Department of Labor, he said, the State Department does not collect employment data that would show, for example, how many students have been placed in factories like the Palmyra plant, or how recently.

Mr. Anaya said his organization began by sending small numbers of students to Palmyra six years ago, for the annual summertime surge packing Hershey’s candies for the Christmas holidays.

Many students were surprised to learn when they arrived that they would not work for Hershey, but for SHS OnSite Solutions, a staffing subcontractor for Exel, the contractor Hershey hired to operate the packing plant.

This summer Cetusa placed nearly 400 students in jobs in which, according to the fine print of the visa papers, the worker “spends 100 per cent of the shift standing, walking, stooping, bending or lifting” and “involved in repetitive motion work,” and must be able to “lift up to 27 kilograms throughout the shift” (about 60 pounds) and “function effectively” in a cold room.

‘This Is America’

Many students — including many who left Hershey before the labor groups arrived — said the jobs were an immersion in misery.

Ignacio Torres Sibaja, a 21-year-old graphic arts student, said he started to weep when he read news about the walkout from his home in Costa Rica as he recalled three months when he worked in Palmyra last winter.

“I spent some of the worst moments of my life during that exchange,” Mr. Torres said. Speaking by telephone from San José, he said he had applied for a resort job in Colorado, learning only at the last minute that he would go to Palmyra. He did not focus on the job description. He thought working for Hershey would be fun.

A partner organization of Cetusa in Costa Rica had assured him he would earn back the $4,000 he borrowed from his parents to pay airfare and charges by Cetusa for his visa and their fees, Mr. Torres said. But that partner went out of business days after he arrived in the United States. With no guidance from either group, Mr. Torres spent two sleepless days, including one night he passed in a mall, finding a bus from Kennedy Airport to Harrisburg, Pa., where Cetusa has an office.

A representative of the sponsor greeted him with a demand for $800 to cover a rental deposit on an apartment, Mr. Torres said. The agency provided small apartments, often 15 miles away in Harrisburg, charging each student $400 a month to live in cramped quarters with four or five others.

Mr. Torres turned over all the spending money — $500 — he had scraped together for the trip. “I spent a week not eating,” he said.

At the plant, Mr. Torres said, “the packing line gets really, really fast and stressful.” Even though the plant was chilled below 60 degrees, he said, “I would be sweating all over.”

Mr. Torres echoed many students when he said his lowest moment came with his first paycheck. After deductions by Cetusa for rent, utilities, bus fare and other items, he took home $85 for 35 hours of work.

“You wanted a cultural exchange,” Mr. Torres was told by the group representative, he said. “This is America and this is the way we do things here.” Although Cetusa is a nonprofit organization in the United States, commercial affiliates manage housing and insurance for its international student programs.

Mr. Torres finished his job too broke to travel in the United States, he said, and went home in debt, feeling cheated.

Hoping to Be Fired

In June, a student from China, Tian Jia Yi, started on the packing line at the Hershey plant. Mr. Tian, 20, a hotel management student at a college in Qingdao, quickly discovered that the work was too much for him.

“My supervisor always ordered us to carry these chocolate boxes every day that were too heavy,” Mr. Tian said in a telephone interview, striving to express himself in correct English. After he pleaded for weeks for a different task, he said, a manager fired him.

“In a stupid way it was my dream that she would fire me because I can’t bear that work anymore,” he said.

Cetusa offered Mr. Tian a new job in California — but he had no money to travel there. Then the organization ordered him to leave his Pennsylvania apartment. Stranded and alone, he managed to locate a relative in Flushing, Queens, and retreated there to search, unavailingly, for a new job.

“I feel very ashamed that I have to spend a lot of money that my parents sent to me,” Mr. Tian said.

Under program regulations, sponsors are required to monitor their students throughout their stay here. But according to State Department officials, Mr. Anaya told them shortly after the walkout that his organization had not received any complaints from Palmyra before the protest.

Mr. Torres, however, recalled a gathering in March when dozens of students assailed Cetusa representatives with their grievances. “Everybody rose up and starting confronting them,” he said. In early August, a representative of the organization, Malgorzata Tekgoz, worked a night shift at the Palmyra plant to assess conditions there.

“It was fine, of course I got tired at the end of the shift,” she reported in an e-mail. She said students had raised “many standard complaints,” particularly about “the frequency of lifting boxes.”

With some students who pressed their case, Cetusa played tough. When the agency learned that Mr. Ureche had complained to the State Department, it terminated his participation in the program, putting him in violation of his visa, according to correspondence between Alan J. Leahy, a lawyer for the organization, and a labor lawyer Mr. Ureche contacted, Laurence E. Norton.

Still, dozens of foreign students employed at the Palmyra plant did not join the protests, State Department officials noted. Some had returned this summer for a second tour there.

Lenka Vavrova, 23, a student from Slovakia, told Cetusa in an e-mail that she was “ashamed of who some of these students are.” She wrote, “We came here for a short time so we should respect the conditions and laws.”

Mr. Anaya said he was convinced the demonstrators had been “misled and sold a bill of goods that is unfair to them” by the labor groups. “I do believe in the kids,” he said. “I believe eventually they will feel sorry for what they did.”

Saket Soni, director of the National Guestworker Alliance, said mobilizing the students had not been hard. “We talked about fundamental labor and civil rights protections that cover these students, and all workers in America,” he said. After the walkout, Exel, the contractor, said it would not longer use J-1 students at Palmyra.

Mr. Ureche said he remained disappointed by his experience here. “The students are not cheap workers,” he said. “They are coming here to meet new people, make some money for travel. This program is not for living without food, without money, without nothing.”

Alain Delaquérière contributed reporting.


So, um... yeah. This is kind of horrible. Promising foreign students a chance to see america, only to make them work in warehouses, dock their pay and make them work, or else they are kicked out of the "program". These are masters students, not high school students. Forced to do physical labour, then having their pay taken away. Sady's article calls for a boycott of hershey's products in the States. I can't say I blame her.

Fucking gross.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby CorruptUser » Wed Oct 19, 2011 7:52 pm UTC

This is why my chocolate factory is closed to the public and is run by kidnapped African Pygmies whose only knowledge of english words like "Help! He beats us in the night!" are "Oompa loompa doopity doo".

Spoiler:
Roald Dahl originally wrote that book as a both a satire and parody of the hell that is the candy industry. Yes, in the original edition the Oompa Loompas were African Pygmies that were more or less slave labor.
Last edited by CorruptUser on Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:07 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Ghostbear » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:01 pm UTC

Reading the NYT article, it seems to me that the issue here is that no one in charge listened to any complaints until the problem exploded. Something needs to be done with this (and other agencies, corporations, groups, etc. as well, I assume) to make them actually take notifications seriously before the problem becomes huge, I think.

Closer to the topic: this is really despicable.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Zamfir » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:12 pm UTC

Yeah, old lesson in the business. If you want to exploit foreign workers, don't pick students. They're relatively vocal and confident, they get friends who understand the local rules. And influential people sympathize with them, because their children might be students too.

You're much better off with workers who you can keep isolated, who don't understand the language, who don't know what normal conditions are, who don't understand the law so you can easily threaten to have them send home, or to prison. Preferably from the countryside, and without much of their countrymen living in the neighbourhood. Make sure they have access to some booze, so by the time they're making complaints the locals see them as nasty drunks and won't help them.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dark567 » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:36 pm UTC

Honestly it seems like more of a fuckup by Cetusa then Hershey. Hell Hershey subcontracts that plant out to SHS OnSite Solutions, they didn't even seem to be aware that it was happening.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Oct 20, 2011 5:28 am UTC

What I really love is that their defense is: this is how we do things in America.

Wow, raging fucking endorsement of the country that is.

Welcome to America, we treat everybody like a worthless piece of shit.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Hawknc » Thu Oct 20, 2011 9:25 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:Honestly it seems like more of a fuckup by Cetusa then Hershey. Hell Hershey subcontracts that plant out to SHS OnSite Solutions, they didn't even seem to be aware that it was happening.

This is never an excuse. If it's your name on the box, it's your job to know how your products are made. That's pretty much Corporate Social Responsibility 101.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby the_bandersnatch » Thu Oct 20, 2011 10:19 am UTC

I'd recommend boycotting Hershey's also on account of their chocolate tasting like cocoa mixed with sawdust. I'll write to my MP and see if I can organise some international aid in the form of sending over airdrops of Cadbury's Dairy Milks.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Zamfir » Thu Oct 20, 2011 11:02 am UTC

Is this relly a fuckup by Cetusa, as opposed to something running as intended? It reads as if the organization (or people within it) are using the program to pull some quick bucks. I'd take good odds that the overly expensive housing and transportation were run by people with good connections to the program.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dark567 » Thu Oct 20, 2011 1:56 pm UTC

Hawknc wrote:
Dark567 wrote:Honestly it seems like more of a fuckup by Cetusa then Hershey. Hell Hershey subcontracts that plant out to SHS OnSite Solutions, they didn't even seem to be aware that it was happening.

This is never an excuse. If it's your name on the box, it's your job to know how your products are made. That's pretty much Corporate Social Responsibility 101.

I disagree... to an extent. Would you blame Hershey for the subcontractors who made the cardboard for the boxes treating their employees badly? How about the loggers who provided the wood for it in the first place? Supply chains can be long and deep and nearly impossible to know what your subcontractors are doing.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Hawknc » Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:09 pm UTC

Knowing what your tier 1 suppliers are doing isn't a great stretch. For instance, Hershey's requires all its suppliers to sign up to its code of conduct - either Cetusa or SHS Onsite Solutions, as you say, have failed to meet that obligation.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Zamfir » Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:43 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Hawknc wrote:
Dark567 wrote:Honestly it seems like more of a fuckup by Cetusa then Hershey. Hell Hershey subcontracts that plant out to SHS OnSite Solutions, they didn't even seem to be aware that it was happening.

This is never an excuse. If it's your name on the box, it's your job to know how your products are made. That's pretty much Corporate Social Responsibility 101.

I disagree... to an extent. Would you blame Hershey for the subcontractors who made the cardboard for the boxes treating their employees badly? How about the loggers who provided the wood for it in the first place? Supply chains can be long and deep and nearly impossible to know what your subcontractors are doing.

And those long and deep supply chains are well-suited to hide excesses. Get the cheapest, don't ask questions, plausible deniability for the win. That's not a good thing, it's a downside. We shouldn't encourage that downside by giving free passes to companies that subcontract the nastier parts of their business, but instead we should push for responsibility as far down the chain as achievable.

In your example, the cardboard factory might well be a more natural pressure point than Hershey. That's not the case here, where it's just one step removed in an activity that is done for Hershey alone. When the work is described as "working at the Hershey plant", it's pretty clear that we're not yet talking about truly wide and complicated supply chains.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby AvatarIII » Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:48 pm UTC

just want to post this, which shows the maximum weight that employers are allowed to ask of their employees to lift without mechanical or human assistance, in the UK, by health and safety law, and has been for 20 years. (technically an employee can choose to pick up more, but it becomes their responsibility if they are injured by the lifting at that point.)

Image

as you can see the maximum men can lift from the floor is 10kg and from waist height 25kg, and only 7kg and 16kg respectively for women, asking employees to lift 27kg, I assume from the floor, is pretty bad.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Eyat » Thu Oct 20, 2011 3:30 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:And those long and deep supply chains are well-suited to hide excesses. Get the cheapest, don't ask questions, plausible deniability for the win. That's not a good thing, it's a downside. We shouldn't encourage that downside by giving free passes to companies that subcontract the nastier parts of their business, but instead we should push for responsibility as far down the chain as achievable.

In your example, the cardboard factory might well be a more natural pressure point than Hershey. That's not the case here, where it's just one step removed in an activity that is done for Hershey alone. When the work is described as "working at the Hershey plant", it's pretty clear that we're not yet talking about truly wide and complicated supply chains.


What did you expect Hershey to do exactly? if they asked for records they would have gotten payroll reports that showed them paying summer help $8 an hour, not a living wage but very normal thing to pay students for a summer and if they would have toured the plants they would have seen a bunch of 20 somethings toting and carrying boxes, like you would see in almost every other warehouse in america. I worked at a ball bearing warehouse and they would hire temps to do QA/QC when something went bad on the production line and they would carry boxes of bearings from a pallet on one side to a table, stand at the table and inspect the parts, repack them carry them over to the other side of the warehouse and put them on another pallet and repeat all day for days until it was done.

As for that chart avatar posted isn't that far off from what they were doing (which seem to be 27kg boxes)

The bad part is these unexplained fees from their pay checks which has that 1800's company town general store feel to them but the article doesn't really expound on them very much.

Also why is this program even in existence? I mean when american students study abroad it is always a luxury type program that costs money and depending on your major sets you back and from as far as I can tell from people I know who have done it consists of drinking in a different country (where you may or may not learn a new language). This is like a work program that pays you $8 an hour, you are not going to be able to do anything fun if you are expected to support yourself completely on $8 an hour.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Zamfir » Thu Oct 20, 2011 4:20 pm UTC

If the line was producing polluted chocolate bars, Hershey would obviously be held responsible. We'd say, if you can't assure the quality of your suppliers you shouldn't outsource that part of the work. So Hershey presumably has all kinds of checks in place to make sure that the production of their suppliers meets quality norms.

The same applies here. If you can't make sure your outsourced factory has decent working standards, without company-towning of foreign workers for example, then they shouldn't outsource the factory.

Companies do this kind of outsourcing because it's cheaper, and everybody involved knows that it is partially cheaper because subcontractors can skimp on working conditions in a way that large and brand-conscious companies cannot. That is not a big surprise, it's the point of the exercise. You bet that the pitch of Exel and SHS contained something like 'we are global business leaders in rationalizing human resource expenses'

It's important that companies cannot use ignorance as excuse for negative effects of their production. because that encourages them to stay ignorant, and look at prices only.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby AngelfishTitan » Thu Oct 20, 2011 4:34 pm UTC

Eyat wrote:Also why is this program even in existence? I mean when american students study abroad it is always a luxury type program that costs money and depending on your major sets you back and from as far as I can tell from people I know who have done it consists of drinking in a different country (where you may or may not learn a new language). This is like a work program that pays you $8 an hour, you are not going to be able to do anything fun if you are expected to support yourself completely on $8 an hour.


From the article:

The Article wrote:The college student from Moldova was in the United States on a cultural exchange program run for half a century by the federal government, a program designed to build international understanding by providing foreign students with a dream summer of fun in America.
...
Students like Mr. Ureche, who had paid as much as $6,000 to take part in the program, expected a chance to see the best of this country, to make American friends and sightsee, with a summer job to help finance it all.


Clearly it was not supposed to be a bunch of foreign students working as slaves in a factory. It was supposed to be similar to an American study abroad program but clearly backfired. These young adults payed money to work a minimum wage job where most of their pay was taken back by the employer, I doubt it is how they were planning to spend their time in the States.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Thu Oct 20, 2011 4:38 pm UTC

Seems par for the course in the chocolate industry. As far as I am aware, the beans are harvested by slaves (mostly abducted children) in west africa who are working in even worse conditions.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Oct 20, 2011 6:17 pm UTC

Mostly young teenagers, that voluntarily (at first) arrived, desperate for any kind of work. Working conditions are mostly sweat shop (sweat field?). Combined with the old company store trick (only store within walking distance, sell bare necessities on credit, you know the rest).

Chattel slavery is much less common (but not nonexistant). Mostly because beating someone until they pick crops produces less per worker than them working as hard as they can to get out of debt (especially when you control that debt).

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby iChef » Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:43 pm UTC

This is very common all over America in all sorts of industries. It is rampant in many amusement parks. They pull the same stunt. "Come work at (redacted) the greatest park in America, see the country ride roller coasters make new friends!!!" It turns into working 7 days a week for minimum wage and even then you only get part of your pay at the end of the week and they keep a large chunk of it to give you as a "bonus" at the end. Don't screw up or you will get parts of that bonus deducted. A good friend of mine went to work at a park like that. Worked 4 16 hour days and 2 8 hour days a week and would often get called in on his day off. The conditions were filthy (never eat at a park's concession stand it would be more sanitary to kill the seagulls in the parking lot and eat them), every body was irritable from long hours and low pay. From what i hear the only way they all made it through was very, very heavy drinking.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Oct 20, 2011 8:06 pm UTC

What? No chance of Kirsten Stewart sex? (Adventureland)

But yeah, there is a reason carnies are surly. Reporting to the bureau of labor at best gets the park shut down and everyone fired.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby iChef » Thu Oct 20, 2011 8:21 pm UTC

This is at the big amusement parks, the most popular ones in the country are the biggest offenders. Plus there is a chance of Kristen Stewart sex, among many, many other health code violations.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Oct 20, 2011 9:53 pm UTC

How can they get away with this? I don't mean the whole ignoring government regulation thing, that's obvious how that works, I mean treating their workers like crap when there are other dead-end at Burger King that actually do pay minimum wage plus the occasional free burger. There is more to this story; are the carnies people on parole who's condition of release is that they have this job?

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dauric » Thu Oct 20, 2011 10:02 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:How can they get away with this? I don't mean the whole ignoring government regulation thing, that's obvious how that works, I mean treating their workers like crap when there are other dead-end at Burger King that actually do pay minimum wage plus the occasional free burger. There is more to this story; are the carnies people on parole who's condition of release is that they have this job?


Well, the thing is it's not like carnies are unique in their treatment at the "dead-end at Burger King jobs" sector. Wal-Mart was recently sued for "encouraging" employees to work more than 40 hours without overtime authorization (ultimately working "off the clock") or face reductions in pay or termination. The OP is about warehouse work. These kinds of practices aren't confined to any particular industry, so to go from one of these jobs to another isn't really that likely to find a better position.

Also it's an employer's job market. If you've got one position to fill there's tens or hundreds of applicants. As a jobseeker you're lucky to get that one opening that treats you like shit, but at least it's a paycheck.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Jesse » Fri Oct 21, 2011 12:43 am UTC

Dauric wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:How can they get away with this? I don't mean the whole ignoring government regulation thing, that's obvious how that works, I mean treating their workers like crap when there are other dead-end at Burger King that actually do pay minimum wage plus the occasional free burger. There is more to this story; are the carnies people on parole who's condition of release is that they have this job?


Well, the thing is it's not like carnies are unique in their treatment at the "dead-end at Burger King jobs" sector. Wal-Mart was recently sued for "encouraging" employees to work more than 40 hours without overtime authorization (ultimately working "off the clock") or face reductions in pay or termination. The OP is about warehouse work. These kinds of practices aren't confined to any particular industry, so to go from one of these jobs to another isn't really that likely to find a better position.

Also it's an employer's job market. If you've got one position to fill there's tens or hundreds of applicants. As a jobseeker you're lucky to get that one opening that treats you like shit, but at least it's a paycheck.


Where I work, they brought in regulations where we couldn't work over 40 hours a week without signing a form agreeing to it. It was implied that we signed the form or we would get shifted into the shit jobs and fired the moment they had a reason. Same with the weight limit thing. They can't force us to do it, but they can heavily imply that we do it or they get someone who will, and you'll get shafted in terms of hours or disciplinaries.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:36 am UTC

I mean, what's stopping the workers from going to other minimum-wage work? Assuming this is all min-wage; iChef's story is.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby iChef » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:48 am UTC

What happens with the parks in many cases is the same as OP's story. They get young people from overseas, mostly eastern europe or other places where work is hard to find. They tell these kids to come see America before you go to college. They get them to come for the summer, about 4 months. They tell them they are going to work a job and in their "free time" meet new people and see America. In reality they abuse them, work them like dogs and there is no free time. The only Americans they meet are the spoiled, whiny, demanding slobs they are waiting on in the park, or the alchaholic, ex-junkie American co-workers who can't find a better job, or were suckered in just like they were. if you are 18 and didn't know better working at an amusement parks sound like a blast. Not a little carnival, but the major theme parks. My friend imagined he would be working 40 hours a week and spend his free time hanging out riding roller coasters and having fun. He ended up spending 80+ hours a week working in a cramped kitchen that looked like the last time it was cleaned Jimmy Carter was president.

No one goes to work at these places as a career. They just con people in to sign a contract for one summer, abuse them then get a whole new staff next summer. I heard there are a few people who are desperate enough to do it year after year, but they are in the vast minority.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:08 am UTC

If I was running the carnival as ruthlessly cheap as possible with no regard for health/safety, I'd just use ex-cons on parole; like I said, people on parole often have requirements that they are 'gainfully employed' or they go back to prison. And since most other businesses refuse ex-cons/parolees, meaning the ex-cons either work for you or go to prison, you can do pretty much anything to them.

As for everyone else, I have trouble believing that there aren't other jobs that actually pay minimum wage.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby poxic » Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:21 am UTC

I spent a summer working in Germany on a similar "exchange". I wasn't particularly abused, though the job sucked large amounts of ass: six days a week, about 10 hours a day, working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant with explosive restaurant people. I enjoyed my one day off per week -- I had enough dosh to take a train to somewhere reasonably interesting, see some stuff, and buy a little thing or two -- but it was a suckhole of a summer, otherwise. I was frantic to get home after the two months were up.

Of course, getting sick near the end didn't help at all. The job paid once per month, at the end of the month. I was feeling so fucking miserable by the time I had only three days left to work in the second month, I left. I grabbed my stuff and vanished, heading back to Frankfurt to get home as soon as possible. That means I had worked the previous month for free, basically, but I just couldn't take it anymore. I lucked into a spot on a not-overbooked Lufthansa flight a few days later, just about exactly when I ran out of all forms of money I had available (no credit card or anything like it). Turned out I had caught mono, probably off of someone's fork. Goddammit.

(I was supposed to have three weeks to travel on my last pay before my scheduled return flight. I was too sick and depressed and scared shitless to stick it out.)

So yeah, interesting experience, but kinda traumatic. I couldn't even talk about it without ranting for about a decade. And I don't think I had the worst job out of the lot of us who were so excited to be spending a summer abroad.

I don't mean to belittle the experiences of the students described in the article. Just giving a perspective. I doubt there are many of these "exchange" things that end up being lovely little vacations for anyone, but outright abuse needs to stop.

/edit to add: I wasn't free to find other work, I think. I was contractually obliged to work the two months for that employer. I had to register with a local immigration-or-something agency that kept my passport for a few weeks, then unregister when it was near time to leave. Besides, who the hell would hire some 19 year old kid who barely spoke the language, for only a few weeks? (Besides someone else who wanted to exploit me, that is.)
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:24 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:As for everyone else, I have trouble believing that there aren't other jobs that actually pay minimum wage.

They are all like that. I have worked many part-time minimum wage jobs where the company's owners and managers expect their employees to treat it as a full time job which you have to sacrifice everything for and worship.

Production in television is, in my experience, the absolute worst in this regard. The only thing separating it from Hershey's is that you only do heavy lifting (usually of 70 pound boxes of paper) two or three times a day, unless you are a photographer (though professional cameras have gotten considerably lighter over the last ten years). (Work three months in a row? Suck it up, crybaby. Go do all the hard work so us people in sales can get our thousand dollar Christmas bonuses--don't worry, we'll give you a fifty dollar gift card--which we paid for by offering them cheaper commercials--to the shittiest grocery store in the city. BTW, it expires tomorrow. Get on it! Oh wait, you aren't off until they have closed ahahahaHAHAHAHA) (I stretched the truth a little, only in that the gift card later turned out to expire two years later...not that anyone noticed at the time)

Higher-paying part time jobs' managers, owners, and bosses tend to (also only in my experience) understand that you will have a life outside work, and are okay with it.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby icanus » Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:35 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:As for everyone else, I have trouble believing that there aren't other jobs that actually pay minimum wage.

There are, and maybe a few of them aren't quite as bad as your current one. Problem is there's also dozens of other people also scrambling for them, and you don't even have time to go and look for them because you're working 14-16 hour days. Maybe you can go hand out some resumes on your next day off? Oh, right...

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby LtNOWIS » Fri Oct 21, 2011 6:53 am UTC

AngelfishTitan wrote:Clearly it was not supposed to be a bunch of foreign students working as slaves in a factory. It was supposed to be similar to an American study abroad program but clearly backfired. These young adults payed money to work a minimum wage job where most of their pay was taken back by the employer, I doubt it is how they were planning to spend their time in the States.

No, it's not a study abroad program. It's a "work a job abroad" program, low-paying jobs being an integral part of the program. The article states, the jobs have traditionally been "in national parks, amusement parks, summer camps, beach resorts and restaurants, in low-wage but congenial jobs," not in factories. But as other people have stated, amusement parks and restaurants can also be terrible places to work in.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dauric » Fri Oct 21, 2011 2:13 pm UTC

Sheikh al-Majaneen wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:As for everyone else, I have trouble believing that there aren't other jobs that actually pay minimum wage.

They are all like that. I have worked many part-time minimum wage jobs where the company's owners and managers expect their employees to treat it as a full time job which you have to sacrifice everything for and worship.


The thing is if Company A and Company B are in the same or similar industries and Company A shaves a few hundred $K off their balance sheets by treating their employees like crap, that money goes to the company's profits, and profits are what make the shareholders get big dividends. If company B doesn't take the same tact investors will sell B to buy A since A is giving the best return for the investment. In order to recoup their stock price B has to find ways to shave those few hundred $K so they can get more profits to their investors, and if everything ethical to shave out of the budget has been done, B is forced to treat their employees the same as A.

And there's really no pressure to behave better towards one's employees at the lowest levels of the job market. There's always a glut of people looking for low-level employment, and every year hundreds of thousands of High School Seniors graduate to swell the ranks of those seeking a low-wage job. Company A could lose most of their workforce to other companies because of shitty treatment towards their employees and know there's -still- more eager to just have a job at all, ANY job at all who will work in their shop under almost any conditions. Company A's managers can pretty much ride the line of illegality, and ride that line like they've been drinking all night, and -still- not have problems finding people who will work for them.

And again, because the economic incentives (especially in publicly traded companies) don't favor good treatment of the employees, the number of jobs that -don't- behave like sweatshops is very limited, so whatever concerns the company may have about losing people to other companies are heavily mitigated by the fact that there's so very few low-wage jobs available that do treat their employees better than crap.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Jahoclave » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:13 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:
Sheikh al-Majaneen wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:As for everyone else, I have trouble believing that there aren't other jobs that actually pay minimum wage.

They are all like that. I have worked many part-time minimum wage jobs where the company's owners and managers expect their employees to treat it as a full time job which you have to sacrifice everything for and worship.


The thing is if Company A and Company B are in the same or similar industries and Company A shaves a few hundred $K off their balance sheets by treating their employees like crap, that money goes to the company's profits, and profits are what make the shareholders get big dividends. If company B doesn't take the same tact investors will sell B to buy A since A is giving the best return for the investment. In order to recoup their stock price B has to find ways to shave those few hundred $K so they can get more profits to their investors, and if everything ethical to shave out of the budget has been done, B is forced to treat their employees the same as A.

And there's really no pressure to behave better towards one's employees at the lowest levels of the job market. There's always a glut of people looking for low-level employment, and every year hundreds of thousands of High School Seniors graduate to swell the ranks of those seeking a low-wage job. Company A could lose most of their workforce to other companies because of shitty treatment towards their employees and know there's -still- more eager to just have a job at all, ANY job at all who will work in their shop under almost any conditions. Company A's managers can pretty much ride the line of illegality, and ride that line like they've been drinking all night, and -still- not have problems finding people who will work for them.

And again, because the economic incentives (especially in publicly traded companies) don't favor good treatment of the employees, the number of jobs that -don't- behave like sweatshops is very limited, so whatever concerns the company may have about losing people to other companies are heavily mitigated by the fact that there's so very few low-wage jobs available that do treat their employees better than crap.

It's like the economic system is causing companies to treat their employees as subhuman entities who aren't worth diddly. We should get upset and maybe go stand outside somewhere, and shew off the crazy folks, oh, and designate a media spokesperson; somebody who dresses nice and can articulate points...

Seriously though, if there was one thing about our current business models that annoys me, it's that the company's goal is to maximize returns for investors rather than anything else.

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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Game_boy » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:23 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:
The thing is if Company A and Company B are in the same or similar industries and Company A shaves a few hundred $K off their balance sheets by treating their employees like crap, that money goes to the company's profits, and profits are what make the shareholders get big dividends.


If Company B treats their employees better they are less tired, more motivated and happier to give up some time when the company needs them to. This leads to them being more efficient, saving B a few hundred thousand, and customers are left with a better impression after dealing with that company's customer services or buying quality products from them leading to more business for B.

In ideal capitalism with perfect information B could win; the savings A thinks they are making turn out to cost them more in subtle ways. (EDITED in italics)
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dark567 » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:26 pm UTC

Game_boy wrote:In ideal capitalism with perfect information it is B who would usually win; the savings A thinks they are making turn out to cost them more in subtle ways.
Uhh... citation needed? Sometimes you just need a body to complete a task, and motivation doesn't play a big factor. The difference between whether or not its good to overwork your employees for you bottom line is very dependent on industry.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Jessica » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:28 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:It's like the economic system is causing companies to treat their employees as subhuman entities who aren't worth diddly. We should get upset and maybe go stand outside somewhere, and shew off the crazy folks, oh, and designate a media spokesperson; somebody who dresses nice and can articulate points...

Seriously though, if there was one thing about our current business models that annoys me, it's that the company's goal is to maximize returns for investors rather than anything else.

How dare you suggest such inefficiencies! If the investors don't make more money, how can the wealth trickle down!?! You are clearly a communist, who hates america.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:34 pm UTC

Game_boy wrote:In ideal capitalism with perfect information it is B who would usually win; the savings A thinks they are making turn out to cost them more in subtle ways.


Which is why the current minimum wage labor market is imaginary.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dauric » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:40 pm UTC

Belial wrote:
Game_boy wrote:In ideal capitalism with perfect information it is B who would usually win; the savings A thinks they are making turn out to cost them more in subtle ways.


Which is why the current minimum wage labor market is imaginary.


Note the key words in Game Boy's post.

"Ideal Capitalism"

"Perfect Information"

The ideal with it's perfection is not real.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dark567 » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:44 pm UTC

Even with ideal and perfect markets I am not sure his point is true. Sometimes it is the most profitable for companies to pay and treat employees like shit even when all parties have perfect information and ideal competition.
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Re: Hershey forces exchange students into indentured servitu

Postby Dauric » Fri Oct 21, 2011 4:49 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:Even with ideal and perfect markets I am not sure his point is true. Sometimes it is the most profitable for companies to pay and treat employees like shit even when all parties have perfect information and ideal competition.


It's hard to know, given the lack of perfect data to evaluate. Like you said it depends on industry. I would expect it to be more likely in things like retail where the worker comes in contact with customers, but warehouse laborers on the other hand don't come in contact with the customers so creepy forced happiness doesn't impact customer relations and sales numbers.
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