A group of student guest workers from Asia and Latin America walked out of the Pennsylvania McDonalds where they’re employed on Wednesday, saying that they’ve been paid less than the minimum wage and are housed in subpar and overcrowded apartments. The workers are all students who came to the U.S. on J-1 visas, which the State Department bills as a cultural and educational exchange program.
“I told my parents about where I’m living, and they were like, ‘what”…it really worried my parents,” said Sabrina Tan, a Malaysian finance student, in a video released yesterday by the National Guestworker Alliance, which is organizing the students.
“Each student paid at least $3,000 to participate in the U.S. State Department’s J-1 student guestworker program- a program designed to offer foreign college students a summer cultural exchange in the United States,” the complaint to the DOL read. “Instead, McDonald’s franchisee Andy Cheung/ Cheung Enterprises LLC and Geovisions used the J-1 program to source cheap, exploitable workers from Latin American and Asia and then treated them as a sub-minimum wage surplus workforce at the fast food chain franchises.”
According to a statement from Alliance, the students plan to deliver a written request for meeting to McDonald’s CEO today at 3pm.
Yesterday McDonalds said it would investigate the claims.
“We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously,” McDonald’s said in a statement to PennLive. “We are working closely with the franchisee to investigate the claims surrounding (Cheung’s) program.”
The strike comes as members of Congress are debating the future of guest worker programs as part of the broad immigration reform legislation. Human rights groups say that guest worker programs like the J-1 visa are rife with exploitation and abuse because workers’ immigration status is often tied to their employer.