The young people who came to the United States on J-1 visas paid thousands of dollars for the opportunity to visit America, improve their spoken English, and gain work experience. The McDonald’s franchisee who hired them, though, allegedly had other ideas. The students went on strike this week, claiming that the franchisee didn’t give them enough work, and took exorbitant rent out of their paychecks for their housing, with 6-8 students of both sexes to room on rickety bunk beds.
The idea behind the J-1 visa program is that foreign students pay an agency to find them work and make arrangements, and then they earn enough money over the course of their time in the United States to cover their living expenses and cover the fees.
Well, if they were working part-time hours, they had plenty of time to travel and have fun, right? Not so fast. The students say that they were on call 24/7 in case any shifts opened up at the restaurant, and subject to retaliation if they wouldn’t work.
On an online petition, one of the workers explains:
We expected to have 40 hours of work a week, but we were given as little as four hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The employer knew we were desperate for more hours, and he kept us on call to come in with 30 minutes’ notice all day and night. I didn’t even have time to visit the public library.
If we ever answered that we couldn’t work a shift—if someone was sick or exhausted when they got a call at 4 in the morning—the managers retaliated by giving us even less hours.
We could not quit because we knew that if we did, our visas would be cancelled. One manager told us, “You better remember, all we have to do is make one phone call and we can deport you back to your country at any time.”
Our employer [redacted] charged us $300 each per month to live in basement apartments he owned. As many as eight of us lived in a single basement. We slept on bunkbeds made for children that shook and squeaked. We had no privacy whatsoever.
When we talked to the U.S. workers alongside us, we learned that they were being exploited too. They told us they also faced too few hours, threats from managers, and unpaid overtime.
This is not the America we believed in. We believe America is a beautiful country, where everyone can have respect and fair treatment at work. We decided to stand up for ourselves, for other J-1 student guestworkers, and for U.S. workers.
The students went on strike on Wednesday. Supporters from the community and from the National Guestworker Alliance protested outside of the offending McDonald’s.
Students from Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Chile, China, and Malaysia walked off the job in protest, with the support of the National Guestworker Alliance. If that group sounds familiar, it’s because they brought the plight of J-1 visa workers to the country’s attention through a similar strike and protests at Hershey, also in Pennsylvania. In that case, the students’ visa sponsors found them employment with a Hershey supplier that overworked them in inappropriate jobs.
Foreign student workers locked out of their home following McDonald’s protest [Patriot-News]
International J-1 Students Walk Off Job at McDonald’s Due to Exploitative Working Conditions [Raging Chicken Press]
MCDONALD’S MUST PAY! [Coworker.org] (Thanks, Jess!)