(Photo: The Rick Smith Show, PA)
On September 23, 400 student guest workers from around the world were joined by 1,000 unemployed American workers, union members, activists and labor leaders in a march and rally outside the Hershey Chocolate Company packing plant in Pennsylvania.
The students marched up Chocolate Avenue leading a massive group of 1,000 supporters. The crowd bore signs reading “Justice at Hershey’s” and “Exploitation Is Wrong in Any Language,” and chanted, “Hey Hershey’s, can’t you see / What good jobs mean to me?”
The student workers were hired by an outside subcontractor for a subcontractor for yet another subcontractor to Hershey. Worse yet, the students paid $3,000–6,000 each to come to America this summer for what they thought would be a “cultural exchange program.” Instead, they found themselves packing chocolates at the Hershey’s plant in deeply exploitative conditions.
Their demands: end the exploitation of student workers at the Hershey’s plant, and make these jobs living wage jobs for local workers. BCTGM Local 464 represents manufacturing workers in Hershey.
Demanding that Hershey “rectify” the abuses suffered by the student workers, AFL-CIO
President Richard Trumka, BCTGM International President Frank Hurt and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale called on Hershey to make the student guest workers whole and address their other demands “as an initial step to correcting the company’s broken hiring system.”
“We are writing to express our concern over the treatment of international students working at the Hershey plant in Palmyra and the company’s broken hiring system,” began a letter from the three labor leaders to Hershey Company CEO John Bilbrey and Hershey executives.
Three J-1 student leaders and their advisor from the National Guest Workers Alliance met with President Hurt and other executive officers at the union’s headquarters in Kensington, Md. on August 25. Hurt pledged the union’s full support to the students and contributed a significant amount to their assistance fund.
“These brave students have been treated miserably by Hershey Company and its agents,” said Hurt. “They have been robbed not only of their money but of their dream of what America is. To them it is no longer the home of the brave and the bright light to the world, but the land of deceit, fraud and exploitation.
They expressed to us their disbelief and outrage that Americans in Hershey and the surrounding area were unemployed, while they were being lured into the U.S. to do Americans’ jobs for a fraction of a fair day’s wage.
That disillusionment is the ultimate tragedy here. We are glad the students chose to fight for what’s right and not just return with a bad impression of our country,” he said.
“Hershey has caused their exploitation and profited by it,” notes Hurt. “The students have been used by the Hershey Company and the Hershey Trust to avoid having to employ full-time, unionized workers. It is only right and just, therefore, that Hershey meets with us and meets the students’ just demands. They deserve justice, and it is what our nation should be known for,” Hurt concluded.