Posted by Dale Buss on August 26, 2011 02:19 PM
It seems more redolent of some weird scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory than Nike's exploitation of workers at outrageous wages in unkempt Third World textile mills. Nonetheless, America's confectionery giant Hershey has got caught in the middle of a brand-singeing labor dispute with a workforce made up of foreign students.
Federal investigators have opened probes of job conditions at a plant operated by a chocolate-packing contractor for Hershey in Pennsylvania. Seems that many of the 400-odd international students working at the plant under a "cultural exchange" program for the summer have grown disgruntled. The students complained of being forced to lift heavy boxes of candy and work graveyard shifts where the action was too fast for them to keep up. Plus, the allegation goes, the not-for-profit agency that arranged for their employment on behalf of the U.S. State Department deducted too many expenses from their paychecks.
"We did not plan to become organizers in America," said Decebal Bilan, an economics student from Romania, quoted in a release by the U.S. labor group, National Guestworker Alliance. "But now it is our responsibility to bring Hershey's to justice - for ourselves, for future students, and for Pennsylvania."
Maybe it was from watching the old movie Norma Rae in China, Ukraine, and other nations from which they hail. But clearly these foreign students have absorbed some of the trappings of American labor history. That may be why, for example, some of them wore armbands when they came back to work. And why others didn't return to the job at all after lodging their protest but, instead, went on tours of Pennsylvania and New York that were organized by labor unions.
The not-for-profit group that actually employs the students, the Council for Educational Travel U.S.A. based in California, also sought to salve their concerns by paying for day trips for some of the students to Philadelphia or the Gettysburg battlefield.
Maybe those field trips will end up making some of the students feel better about America. Because unlike many U.S. students, they seem to actually know a thing or two about American history.