Last week, there was a surprise strike at multiple McDonald’s restaurants in Central PA – of student guest workers from Asia and Latin America who are here on J-1 visas. First, though, I’m pretty stunned that these restaurants can’t find workers closer to home. It isn’t as though we don’t have millions of people looking for work, but I’d love to know why it is so difficult to hire American fast food workers.
When we hear politicians (and various businessmen) talk about the virtues of a guest worker program — where workers get a temporary visa to come here to take on specific jobs — they are usually talking about farm worker programs. Providing a legal way for seasonal workers to come here, get the work done and then go back to their homes. I’m usually very skeptical of guest worker programs largely on the German experience with guest workers. They recruited workers from various countries to come work, and while they had “guest” status, lots of these workers never went home. It has taken German society and government a very great number of years to find a way to accomodate these guest workers who never went home.
The bigger problem, though, is that guest workers are vulnerable workers, as the McDonald’s kids experienced:
The workers are striking over what they charge are rampant abuses at their stores in Harrisburg and nearby Lemoyne and Camp Hill. According to NGA, the visiting students each paid $3,000 or more for the chance to come and work, and were promised full-time employment; most received only a handful of hours a week, while others worked shifts as long as twenty-five hours straight, without being paid overtime. “Their employer is also their landlord,” said Soni. “They’re earning sub-minimum wages, and then paying it back in rent” to share a room with up to seven co-workers. “Their weekly net pay is actually sometimes brought as low as zero.”
“We are living in [a] basement,” said Rios, “cramped together, with no divisions, in bunkbeds which are meant for children.”
More, from the Huffington Post:
Among the “abuses” alleged by McDonald’s guest workers: (1) They’d been promised full-time jobs, but most were given only a few hours a week. (2) They were nonetheless forced to be on call twenty-four hours a day, and were intimidated and threatened if they complained. (3) The company failed to pay them overtime they were entitled to. (5) According to NGA, their employer is also their landlord, and even though there are as many as half a dozen co-workers sharing a room, their rent (which is automatically taken out of their paycheck) renders them making less than minimum wage. Any complaints, and they’re threatened with being sent back home.
These kids paid $3,000 to come to McDonald’s to work and that money went to a for-profit organization, ostensibly for expenses. Certainly not for oversight.
Guest Workers aren’t going to be any more than second class citizens here, and there won’t be enough oversight from the Government or anyone else to make sure that they are not being taken advantage of or that they leave when their visas are up. The last thing I want to see is my own Government giving our permission slips for workers to be mistreated, because it sure looks like that is what is going on with these kids.