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exploitation of foreign guest workers.

Last summer's walkout by foreign students working for a Hershey chocolate subcontractor under the government's Summer Work Travel program prompted an investigation by the State Department, which is responsible for overseeing the program. Recently, the State Department issued new rules for the Summer Work Travel program, including capping it at 109,000, down from a 2008 high of 152,000. Assessing the new rules, the Economic Policy Institute's Daniel Costa and Ross Eisenbrey conclude that the rules are not perfect but are "a significant improvement and go far toward protecting the rights of U.S. and J-1 workers."

The new rules protect U.S. workers by preventing employers from using student guest workers to fill what would otherwise be permanent jobs for U.S. workers—Summer Work Travel workers can only be placed in seasonal or temporary jobs, and cannot be placed at companies that have laid off workers in the past 120 days or have workers locked out or on strike.

Participants in the SWT program, foreign students drawn to the program's claims of cultural exchange, also receive new protections, including an actual cultural exchange requirement, prohibition of students being given a wider range of hazardous jobs or those performed on overnight shifts. Staffing agencies are also prohibited from subcontracting SWT workers, protecting the students from the kind of complicated employment relationships in which multiple parties are taking a percentage out of their paychecks and everyone has plausible deniability for violations.

Despite these real advances, though, Costa and Eisenbrey call on the State Department to go further. First, capping participation at 109,000 is good, but given high unemployment in the United States, particularly among young workers, the cap should be still lower. They also call for a revised prevailing wage requirement to be strengthened, and for the State Department to claim more unambiguous jurisdiction over employers, requiring them to obey labor law or be banned from the program—a requirement that should be hard to argue with.

The Summer Work Travel program could be a good thing for America's image in the world, exposing interested young people from other countries to the best we have to offer. Instead, it has too often exposed them to the worst. These new rules are a step forward, especially if paired with heightened oversight. But Costa and Eisenbrey's suggestions for strengthening the rules still more are the most basic common sense.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed May 16, 2012 at 01:51 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I count my first summer job as my most educational (0+ / 0-)

    I got a summer job as a janitors assistant via a government subsudized jobs program. The school got a hard (Raised on a family farm hard.) worker at reduced cost to them and I got to know what a non farm job was like. Of course the first thing they had me do was buff the hallway. If anyone here has every run a buffer you know you move it up and down a hallway and from side to side by tilting it up or down. Well they didn't give me any instructions so as soon as I pulled the lever to activate the buffer to rotate it took off down the hallway with me holding on for dear life. About thirty feet down the hallway I kinda figured out how to control it and I heard them laughing their heads off. It was what they did to every new worker.

    While I want to help those in other countries out of poverty and show them America I think while our country is in a recession we need to hire local first and only after it is proved no local people are available hire out of the area.

    I think some bad companies are ripping us off and ruining it for every one. From what I have heard the way the foreign workers are ripped off they do not end up having a very good feeling about America when they go back home.

    PS They told me on my firast job I had brought the buffer under control sooner than anyone else had who had never run a buffer but only after a couple of weeks.

    Just A Real Nice Guy, thinking out loud.

    by arealniceguy on Wed May 16, 2012 at 03:03:53 PM PDT

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