Linda Loftin

No Hershey kisses for these students

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 at 9:58 pm

 Foreign students were expecting a summer of getting to know Americans when they paid between $3,000 -6,000 to come to Hershey this year. They believed they would work a little, make friends, and travel on their temporary J-1 visas.  These students came from many different countries, such as China, Turkey, and Ghana.  They were students with majors such as medicine and engineering. They were excited about the program they had been promised. What they got was a glimpse of America, alright, an America that gets its labor as cheaply and as exploitively as possible. They were promised cultural enrichment, and what they got was work in an isolated industrial park packing Hershey candy and toting heavy boxes, usually on the 3rd shift. They had no benefits or sick days and they worked for minimum wage. They rarely saw any American employees. They were expected to work at a breakneck speed. When they got paid, they found that high fees were taken off the top of their pay for the substandard lodgings they were given. 

They learned something else about America though. They
learned that in this country we have the right to protest
when we are placed in untenable circumstances. On Wednesday,
August 17, some 300 students walked off the job and staged a
protest against the Hershey Corporation.  J-1 visas were
never meant as a means for American companies to get cheap
labor at the expense of local unemployed workers. The State
Department conceived of the J-1 program as a friendly
cultural exchange program where kids from other countries
could come here for a few months, practice their English,
and see the country. They traditionally work at seasonal
jobs where local establishments can’t find enough local help
to fill the positions, such as waitressing at the shore. A
J-1 visa was never meant to fill positions that local
workers should have. 
When the students spoke up to complain about the company’s expectations, they were told they needed to be quiet or they
would be deported. Being deported meant that they would not
get refunds for the thousands of dollars they and their
families had spend for this supposed experience of a
lifetime. 
As would be expected Hershey Corporation is refusing to take responsibility for this particular “cultural experience” and is pointing fingers at its subcontractors. Well, if I subcontracted out a cultural enrichment program, I’d made sure I knew how it was being run because I would realize that I had the ultimate responsibility for the students experiences.  If I were the corporation that made this kind of mistake, I’d apologize, and be deeply embarrassed and ashamed of myself. 

The web-site that encouraged the students to come here for the summer shows happy young people at a scenic vista and promises students a chance to”live your dream.” 
Instead of a dream, there was the reality  of lifting boxes that one Chinese student explained as “very heavy, sometimes we can’t do…..but they ask faster, faster.” 

The New York Times reported that the students worried that they had been used for jobs that local Americans could do, but for less pay. Their concern seems to be correct since Hershey has reduced it’s full-time work force by 700 since 2007, even though the plant has grown. Dennis Bomberger, of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. States that Hershey plans another 500 layoffs next year as well. I wonder if they are expecting a large influx of foreign students next year who have an imperfect ability to speak English, and therefore an imperfect ability to complain well enough to be understood? If so, they better look for students who can’ t speak any English because the kids that came here this summer learned how to raise awareness of their plight.

What I’d like to know is the answer to the question the students raised. Why isn’t Hershey Corporation using local workers to pack their Kit-Kats? With unemployment figures above 9%, surely there are some people living in a 25 mile radius of Hershey who would be  pleased for the opportunity to be employed. We have to wonder why local workers weren’t recruited. It seems that Hershey might not want to have to pay more than $7.25 an hour for this hard work and they might not like the idea of having to give a real employee health benefits or sick days. That would be my guess, what is your guess? 

My daughter found this video on You-Tube. You may find it as interesting as I did so check it out.  Go to http://youtube.com  and do a search for the video Justice at Hershey. The foreign students explain their situation. 

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  1. Hershey’s is the worst. I worked there several years ago and observed blatant xenophobia and racism from co-workers. Not surprised they would try to exploit foreign students and then act like they knew nothing about it. Sickening. Thank you for discussing this on your blog – I hope everyone will join me in boycotting Hershey’s candy.

    • sorry u had bad experience when u worked at Hershey. Sounds like the company needs to provide workshops for employees on appropriate remarks to make about people who are perceived as different. Most large corporations have mandated workshops for employees so that they learn that it is unacceptable to have conversations in the workplace that can be perceived as sexist, racist, etc. Were your colleagues required to take such clases?

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