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Hershey protesters reject offer of trip

Associated Press / August 20, 2011

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Companies involved in employing foreign students who walked off their jobs to protest working conditions at a chocolate distribution plant offered yesterday to send the students on a trip to see US cultural and historical landmarks, but leaders of the protest rejected the plan.

Rick Anaya, chief executive of the Council for Educational Travel USA, the San Clemente, Calif., nonprofit company that helped bring the students to the United States, said the plan emerged after a conference call with representatives of the other three companies involved in their employment at a plant serving the Hershey Co.

Students walked off the job at the Exel Inc. facility Wednesday, saying the work was so strenuous and low-paying that they were unable to see very much of the country they came to visit and that they were angry at having spent thousands of dollars to participate in the program.

The students have J-1 visas, which supply resorts and other businesses with cheap seasonal labor as part of a program aimed at fostering cultural understanding. Exel has said it doesn’t intend to continue to employ J-1 visa holders after the current group’s tenure ends in mid-September.

Godwin Efobi, a 26-year-old medical student from Ukraine who is originally from Nigeria, said the student leaders rejected the offer in the strongest terms.

“If we say yes to this, it means that we were just making noise just so we could get a holiday,’’ Efobi said yesterday. “Yes, we want that, but there are bigger issues.’’

Anaya said the plan was developed by representatives of Westerville, Ohio-based Exel; the Hershey Co.; and SHS Staffing Solutions, a Lemoyne-based employment agency that employs the roughly 400 J-1 visa holders who work at the plant.

Anaya said the trip, which the companies had planned to pay for, was not designed to buy off the students but rather to address one of their main concerns. He said their other issues would remain on the table and his organization was committed to dealing with them.

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