Chocolate Packer

Laura expected that working in the United States would be full of opportunity and new experiences, but instead she found it to be a strict and punishing episode.

After searching desperately for a job in Mexico with no luck, she sought employment with an H-2 visa with one of the many foreign employers hiring workers in her town. After more than a year of trying, she eventually secured an H-2B visa and arrived in Louisiana, excited and nervous for her job at a chocolate factory. Soon, however, her excitement shifted. Packing chocolate at lightning speed into small boxes each day and with only three, 5-minute allotted breaks, she experienced the strict working conditions typical of the industry. Her boss chastised workers who requested sick time, refusing to grant requests for sick days and held little importance in worker safety “unless someone was dying.” She lived and worked in a rural area, far from a hospital, and Laura and her coworkers depended on their employer for transportation. With each paycheck, she was shocked at the transportation and rent deductions in her earnings for employer-provided housing in which 16 workers shared a single stove and phone.

Laura believes that things could have been different had she and other women like her had more information, and more employment options, beginning at the moment of recruitment. In Laura’s community, foreign labor recruiters exclusively hire women for H-2B factory work, while men are offered more diverse and relatively higher-paid jobs in construction and agriculture as well. Knowing that women are often funneled into single industries, Laura is adamant that women can and should be given equal opportunity to work in the H-2A agricultural industry and others. She also believes that workers should receive support from managers in helping them navigate the stresses of the foreign workplace.