Companies to pay $350K for back wages, fines at Hershey plant

Three companies have agreed to pay more than $213,000 in back wages to foreign students who worked at a Palmyra packaging plant owned by The Hershey Company.

The U.S. Department of Labor said the agreement is part of a settlement with Exel Inc., operator of the Eastern Distribution Center III; the SHS Group, which was contracted by Exel to hire and place students at the facility; and the Council for Educational Travel-USA, which acted as the students' sponsor in the State Department's Summer Work Travel program.

The settlement resolves federal minimum wage and overtime violations involving more than a thousand foreign students who were employed at the Palmyra facility.

The Labor Department said the students were charged excessive housing costs that reduced their hourly wages to below the amount they were required to be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Exel agreed to pay an additional $143,000 in penalties for safety and health violations found at the distribution center. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had cited the company for noise standards and record-keeping violations.

Students who were in the Summer Work Travel Program, designed to promote educational and cultural exchange, had been employed in jobs where they repackaged candies for promotional displays.

The State Department has since terminated the Council for Education Travel-USA's designation as a program sponsor.

OSHA in February had proposed penalties totaling $283,000 against Exel, claiming among other things that the company failed to properly record injuries and illnesses at the distribution center.

The National Guestworker Alliance, which headed up protests against The Hershey Company last year, said in a statement that the forced wage deductions left the foreign students earning as little as a dollar an hour.

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