Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What's With Central Pennsylvania?

Central Pennsylvania once again is scene of protests by foreign students alleging mistreatment by an American corporate giant. What gives?

What's With Central Pennsylvania?

FILE- In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, file photo, Carlos Gonzalez and Elsa Guzman eat breakfast at a McDonald´s restaurant, in New York. The world´s biggest hamburger chain said Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, that a key sales figure fell for the first time in nearly a decade in October, as it faced the double whammy of a challenging economy abroad and intensifying competition at home. (AP Photo/Mark Lenniha, File)
FILE- In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, file photo, Carlos Gonzalez and Elsa Guzman eat breakfast at a McDonald's restaurant, in New York. The world's biggest hamburger chain said Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, that a key sales figure fell for the first time in nearly a decade in October, as it faced the double whammy of a challenging economy abroad and intensifying competition at home. (AP Photo/Mark Lenniha, File)

What's up with Central Pennsylvania, land of my birth, heartland of the Commonwealth, place of fresh air and clean living?

For the second time in two years, foreign students in the country on visas to work, learn and soak up U.S. culture are alleging mistreatment at the hands of an American corporate giant.

This time, according to reports Thursday on Huffington Post and in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, a group of students from Latin America and Asia working at area McDonald's fast-food restaurants, say they pay exorbitant rent to live in cramped basements while working fewer hours than promised and having housing charges deducted from their minimum-wage paychecks.

One such student told The Patriot he and seven other students sleep in the basement of a house, he in a utility area on a matress next to a furnace, a boiler and an oil tank, for which they are charged $2,000 per month.

Doesn't sound like a place for Happy Meals, eh?

A labor group representing the students, National Guestworker Alliance, says in a statement that McDonald's "hijacked" the student visa program to "access cheap, exploitable labor."

This comes just two years after another group of foreign students protested against the giant candy-maker Hershey for bad working conditions and large administrative-related deductions from their pay.

That case was settled after government intervention that led to Hershey paying more than $200,000 to students in back pay.

The timing of this latest go-round is sensitive as the nation debates immigration policy and calls for increases in the minimum wage.

It'll draw the involvement of the Labor Department, the State Department, choruses of "if you don't like it, go home" and no doubt attempts at appeasement from McDonald's.

I just wonder when Central Pennsylvania will host a "we are the world" unity festival or seminars in teachable moments to avoid becoming the international posterchild for jingoistic behaviour.

 

 

 

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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