Alleging unpaid wages and illegal threats, McDonalds workers in Central Pennsylvania launched a surprise strike around 11 a.m. Wednesday. The strikers are student guest workers from Latin America and Asia, brought to the United States under the controversial J-1 cultural exchange visa program. Their employer is one of the thousands of McDonalds franchisees with whom the company contracts to run its stores.
The J-1 visa program is officially intended to promote educational and cultural exchange. But advocates allege that J-1, like the other guest worker programs that collectively bring hundreds of thousands of workers in and out of the United States each year, is rife with abuse.
The National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), the organization spearheading the strike, says these types of programs, offers ample opportunities for employers to intimidate workers, suppress organizing, and drive down labor standards.
The workers are striking over what they say, 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. NGA says the students were promised full-time employment, but most students only received a handful of hours a week, while others worked shifts as long as 25 hours straight, without being paid overtime.
The organization also says that McDonalds required the workers to be on call 24 hours a day, and had to be ready to show up for work at 30 minutes notice.
Workers are currently on strike at a McDonalds on Trindle Road in Cumberland County.
This strike is similar to one that happened two years ago, in August 2011, at the Hershey Chocolate Factory in Derry Township.
The NGA backed guest workers when they alleged that Hershey's had manipulated the same J-1 program to replace better-paid union workers with temporary guest labor.
Companies involved ultimately paid $213,000 in unpaid wages, and $143,000 for health and safety infractions.