Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

I'd rather be suffering through record heat in Oklahoma than going through Hurricane Irene back home in Philadelphia, thank you very much. According to the New York Times, the storm made landfall in North Carolina about 7:30 Saturday morning, and continued to move slowly northward along the Atlantic Seaboard as of a little after midnight Sunday morning. New York City shut down in anticipation of the the storm's arrival, including the city's subway system.

A variety of online written and live video sources reported that there were some deaths. The highest number I heard so far was nine. This seems like a remarkably low number given that the hurricane is affecting the nation's most heavily populated area. The relatively weak but massive hurricane seems to be causing widespread flooding and power outages.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a time-lapse video of the storm as it made its way from Puerto Rico and the Bahamas to the East Coast of the United States, and a graphic that will let you track the storm.

Given that it is seriously past my bedtime, I am reminded of  this old folk song.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

More news on the student exchange from hell

The New York Times has picked up the story, which I found re-posted by the National Guestworker Alliance. The Times has a lot more information than what I was able to find online yesterday.

Yesterday, someone asked me, "But why didn't the students find out exactly what kind of job they would have?" I think that's a good question, but on the other hand, look at the Web site for the Council for Education Travel, USA, which the Times identified as "the organization that manages the J-1 visa program for the State Department." (This is the student cultural exchange program.) There is nothing on the organization's site that would arouse my suspicion.

On the other hand, the response given by their spokesperson to the Times didn't sit right with me.
Rick Anaya, chief executive of the council, said he had brought about 6,000 J-1 visa students to the United States this summer. Mr. Anaya said he had tried to respond to the Palmyra workers’ complaints. “We are not getting any cooperation,” he said. “We are trying to work with these kids. All this negativity is hurting an excellent program. We would go out of our way to help them, but it seems like someone is stirring them up out there.”

If people are being overworked and ripped off--apparently the tipping point came when the students discovered they were being charged much more for rent than other tenants in the apartment complex where they are housed--you can't expect them to have a positive attitude.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The student cultural exchange from hell

On Wednesday, an incredible story showed up in my e-mail inbox from the folks at Jobs With Justice.

According to  Jobs With Justice, this summer the Hershey's Company has been exploiting hundreds of student guest workers who thought they were coming to the United States on a cultural exchange. These students reportedly paid between three and six thousand dollars to take part in this program. Instead of a cultural exchange, they have been packing chocolates for Hershey's under abusive conditions. After automatic deductions for rent in company housing, the students are said to make only $40-$140/week.

Some of the students themselves tell their grim story. I found a link to the following video included with the Harrisburg Patriot News coverage of a Wednesday protest at the warehouse where the students work. A civil disobedience action that was part of the protest resulted in three arrests.

These jobs would otherwise be living-wage union jobs for people living in Central Pennsylvania, who could surely use the work. The students' supporters have blamed the Hershey company's willingness to subcontract the jobs for creating the situation.

According to the Associated Press, "An official for the The Hershey Company said the packing plant is run by another company, Excel(sic), and like all vendors is expected to treat workers fairly." The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that "The warehouse [where the students work] is operated by Exel, an Ohio-based logistical firm that provides services for businesses in the Harrisburg area."

A Hershey's company Web page says that company seeks to "provide high-quality Hershey products while conducting our business in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner." If they're sincere about being socially responsible, doesn't that include some responsibility to make sure that their contractors are also socially responsible?

The protester are demanding the end of exploitation of the student workers, the return of the fees they paid to come to the US, and that Hershey's hire local workers at a living wage to do this work. The students have also filed a complaint with the State Department alleging violations of the J-1 visa program under which they were brought to the United States. You can find more information about the protest at Web sites of the National Guestworker Alliance and Jobs With Justice.