Two companies involved in packaging Hershey’s chocolates face $288,000 in OSHA fines in connection with violations regarding foreign exchange students. On top of the OSHA violations, an organization representing guest workers calls the situation one that “kills decent U.S. jobs.”
OSHA has issued nine citations to Exel, Inc., for a total of $283,000, for violations at a distribution center in Palmyra, PA. Hershey hired Exel to run the center. Another company involved in running the center, SHS Group LP, was also fined $5,000.
OSHA investigated after it received a complaint filed by the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) on behalf of foreign students performing summer jobs at the facility.
Last August, about 200 foreign exchange students walked off the job and demonstrated, complaining about working conditions.
Six of the OSHA citations against Exel were classified as willful for failing to:
- record injuries on the OSHA 300 log for four years
- evaluate the accuracy of the logs before certifying them for three years, and
- develop and implement an effective hearing conservation program.
SHS received one serious citation for failing to provide training to employees on the lockout/tagout of energy sources.
The citations claim Exel intentionally failed to report 42 serious injuries to workers over four years — 43% of all such injuries during the period.
In one case, a box hit a worker in the face, causing a corneal abrasion that required treatment in an emergency room. Many other injuries were related to lifting and moving 60-pound boxes of Hershey’s chocolates along a packing line.
Exchange students said they paid as much as $3,500 to work and travel in the U.S. for several months. Some reported they were paid $8.35 an hour but monthly rent of $400 was deducted from their paychecks. The students also reported neck, back and arm injuries from lifting and carrying boxes.
The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division is investigating potential violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The students were hosted by a nonprofit, the Council for Educational Travel (CETUSA). The Labor Dept. is looking into whether CETUSA violated the law by taking excessive deductions from the students’ paychecks for housing and other services.
The federal government has banned CETUSA from bringing students into the U.S.
The NGA called the situation a “case study of the way a major corporation uses a subcontracting giant to kill decent U.S. jobs.”
Exel says it will contest its OSHA citations.