Imagine that you are a Turkish young woman learning English translation at a university in Istanbul. In search of adventure and a little bit of money from a summer job, you get accepted in a foreign work program where you will be spending the summer working in Thermopolis, Wyoming at the McDonald’s there, expecting to make enough money to enjoy the summer and return home with a few hundred dollars in your pocket. Imagine your surprise when you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming  without enough money to go home because someone has foolishly invited too many workers to come over, more than she can pay full-time wages, because the restaurant does not make enough money. You would think that a world-renowned company like McDonald’s would not want that mess, right? You would think wrong. Think this situation is imaginary? Think again—it is the precise situation my friend Irem, and three other young women from Turkey, are dealing with right now.
Normally, it would be straightforward to suggest that a person whose hours have been cut so that they cannot afford their plane trip home should find another job. But how many other jobs are available in Thermopolis, a small town of some 3,000 people in rural central Wyoming, especially to people who are not American citizens, do not have green cards, and have shift-work that makes them seek work in the evening, long after business would be closed? What is one to do if one is a stranded foreign national on American soil who is only in this country because of a work program set up from Turkey? What repercussions are there for companies like the Thermopolis McDonald’s that lured foreigners into the country and then made it impossible for them to leave? What state and federal laws and agencies can deal such a situation and provide some defense for someone who would not otherwise be protected by American labor laws?
It is shocking that a company as well-known worldwide as McDonald’s would permit their branches to engage in false and treacherous dealings with foreigners, causing them to come from many thousands of miles away to work for the summer, and then make it impossible for them to be able to afford to return home. Do they think these Turkish young women have no friends, no defenders, no one capable on speaking up on their behalf? If they thought so, they thought incorrectly. Let us therefore let the people of Thermopolis and let McDonald’s know how treacherously they have behaved to these people, damaged their reputation and the reputation of the United States as a host country, in leaving four young women stranded many thousands of miles away from their homes and their families. For who can stand to see people treated so abominably like this? Are we not a generous people and an honorable people? Then we should not stand to see people treated like this among us.
Today I have an update from my friend that she and her three Turkish roommates met with the store manager, who was shocked at the expenses taken from their checks, including $50 for a membership at “Star Plunge,” a pool. She also seemed unaware at the living conditions (lacking furniture and pans) provided for the foreign guest workers at her store. Apparently, initial negotiations went well, and there will be a further meeting tomorrow.
The more I think and hear about this situation, though, the less I like it. With high unemployment in the United States, why would a company import guest workers, even for burger flipping jobs? There appear to have been discrepancies between what was promised in Turkish and what was agreed to English. Who authorized these young woman to work here in the first place? It just seems very wrong, as if this was a deliberate attempt to bring in workers who would be unable or unwilling, due to their exposed position, to protest their working and living conditions. It seems like a deliberate plot to exploit foreigners on a very high level. So far it seems things are looking better for my friend and her coworkers, though no doubt many more like her suffer in silence without someone to speak in their defense.