A McDonald's franchisee with units in Harrisburg, Lemoyne and Camp Hill, Pa., has been accused of labor abuse and exploitation by international student guestworkers, who organized a strike in protest today.

They claim they experienced wage theft, 25-hour shifts and substandard housing conditions during their time participating in the U.S. State Department's J-1 student guestworker program. As part of the program, guestworkers from Argentina, Peru, Chile, Malaysia and other countries, were paid $3,000 each to participate in cultural exchange activities. However, they are instead claiming that the McDonald's franchisee used them as "sub-minimum wage exploitable workforce." Their accusations include:

  • As few as four hours of work a week at $7.25 an hour, with exorbitant housing deductions that brought their net pay far below minimum wage;
  • Shifts as long as 25 hours with no overtime pay;
  • Being packed into employer-owned basement housing, up to eight students to a room, for $300 each per month;
  • Threats to cut hours further and surprise home visits from the employer and McDonald's labor recruiter to suppress complaints; and
  • Being made to re-label expired salads as fresh and to keep unsold burgers that should have been disposed after 30 minutes up for sale for up to six hours.

This morning, students marched from their housing to one of the McDonald's franchises where they worked. They were joined by labor, faith and community supporters who demanded that the McDonald's franchisee cease hiring J-1 student guestworkers and offer his full-time work to U.S. employees instead.

They're also asking that McDonald's pay the students back for substandard housing that brought their wages below the minimum level; that McDonald's forbid its franchisee and labor recruiter from retaliating against student workers for organizing for their rights; and that McDonald's adopt basic labor standards for its franchises and reveal other guestworkers at its stores to prevent future abuse.

The labor abuse at McDonald's comes after a similar exploitation against J-1 student guestworkers at a Hershey's Chocolate packing plant in Pennsylvania in 2011.

"McDonald's hijacked the guestworker program to access cheap, exploitable labor," claims Saket Soni, National Guestworker Alliance executive director. "At a time when workers are organizing to win immigration reform and raise the minimum wage, McDonald's is innovating new ways to turn immigrant workers into a sub-minimum wage workforce."

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