Godwin is a Nigerian student who heard about a great opportunity to learn about American culture and hone his English skills in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He was excited when he learned he was accepted to be a part of a special U.S. State Department approved visa program designed to promote cultural exchange and international understanding. He was so thrilled that he would be meeting American people as a guestworker with the Hershey Company that he was willing to pay $4,000 to be part of the program.
Once he arrived in Hershey, his excitement quickly faded as he found himself forced to work long hours packing chocolates instead of working in a public position. Godwin, and hundreds of other international students from all over the world, found that they not only had to work long hours, but Hershey forced them to live in company housing, after paying $3,000-6,000 for the “opportunity” to work for Hershey. Hershey also charged them other expenses, leaving most of the students with $40 to $140 per week after 40 hours of work with serious health and safety problems at the worksite.
When they complained about their working conditions, the students were threatened with deportation.
But Hershey’s exploitation doesn’t end with the students. Jobs like these used to be living wage jobs with a union contract, earning about $18 an hour.
The students understand that they are being exploited, and they understand that they are being used to hurt working families in the United States. Today, they are courageously risking deportation to stand up for themselves and American workers by organizing a sit down strike inside the plant. They were joined in the sit down strike by community, religious and labor leaders.
They have two simple demands:
1) Hershey Company must return the $3000-$6000 that the student-workers paid to participate in a bogus cultural exchange program;
2) Hershey must make these jobs living wage jobs for Pennsylvania workers.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up to an employer who legally controls every aspect of your life. We need you to help the students in their efforts to expose this fraudulent program and get justice for themselves and American workers.
Please send a message to Hershey’s CEO in support of the students by clicking here. Join the brave international students in their fight against this injustice.
by Mike Morrill
© 2011 Michael Morrill, Keystone Propgress
Photo by Jelene Morris
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