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International Student Workers Claim McDonald's Exploited Them For Cheap Labor

"We paid $3,000-4,000 each to come to the United States on this program, expecting a cultural exchange... Instead, we became exploited workers at McDonald's restaurants in Pennsylvania."

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From the description on their page:

My name is Jorge Rios. I'm a student guestworker from Argentina who came to the U.S. on the State Department's J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, together with other students from Latin America and Asia.

We paid $3,000-4,000 each to come to the United States on this program, expecting a cultural exchange and good work that would let us earn back this money over three months and travel a bit at the end.

Instead, we became exploited workers at McDonald's restaurants in Pennsylvania. We had terrible working and housing conditions. We faced threats, stolen wages, grease burns up and down our arms. We were only used to enrich our employer.

We expected to have 40 hours of work a week, but we were given as little as four hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The employer knew we were desperate for more hours, and he kept us on call to come in with 30 minutes' notice all day and night. I didn't even have time to visit the public library...

He goes on to say that they were forced into these harsh conditions by threats of deportation:

We could not quit because we knew that if we did, our visas would be cancelled. One manager told us, "You better remember, all we have to do is make one phone call and we can deport you back to your country at any time."

Our employer Andy Cheung charged us $300 each per month to live in basement apartments he owned. As many as eight of us lived in a single basement. We slept on bunkbeds made for children that shook and squeaked. We had no privacy whatsoever.

When we talked to the U.S. workers alongside us, we learned that they were being exploited too. They told us they also faced too few hours, threats from managers, and unpaid overtime.


The McDonald’s J-1 Student Guestworkers are now petitioning for:

1. That McDonald's pay us students back all the money we are owed, including the money we spent to come work for the company, unpaid overtime, and housing overcharges;
2. That McDonald's offer full-time work to its U.S. workers, who are struggling with too few hours;
3. That McDonald's reveal all the stores where it employs guestworkers, and sign an agreement with the National Guestworker Alliance to guarantee basic labor standards for them, including protections from retaliation when workers organize against abuse.


"There were eight of us living in the basement. There was one room where we were all sleeping together. The room was separated by a curtain, with four men on one side of the room, and four women on the other side of the room… In the same big room was the kitchen and the dining area. It was a very disappointing experience."


McDonald's has responded to the claims of possible exploitation:

"We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald's restaurants seriously. We are working closely with the franchisee to investigate the claims surrounding his program."

Ryan Broderick is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Ryan Broderick at

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