MANILA, Philippines?The Filipino teachers in Louisiana who have accused their recruiter of labor contract violations continue to gain support in the United States after a widely circulated newspaper detailed their suffering.
USA Today published in its Oct. 28 issue an article on the teachers, focusing on three?Ingrid Cruz, Ian Cainglet and Luzellene Perez?who borrowed up to P50,000 to be able to go to Louisiana but ended up deeper in debt.
The teachers? experience echoed that of the 27 so-called Sentosa nurses?Filipinos in New York City who sued their employer and recruiter for labor malpractice and illegal recruitment.
Cruz, Cainglet and Perez were among the estimated 300 Filipino public school teachers deployed over the past two years by the Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International Inc. through its Philippine sister firm, PARS International Placement Agency, which maintains an office in Quezon City.
Cruz and other teachers, with the support of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest education sector union in the US, have sued UPI for labor malpractice before Louisiana's Workforce Commission. AFT president Randi Weingarten said the Filipinos were being ?treated like chattel.?
On Oct. 20, AFT filed another complaint with the US Department of Labor on behalf of the teachers, who the union said were kept with "virtual servitude" by their recruiter.
In Manila, the labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), which exposed the teachers plight in November last year, called on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Department of Labor and Employment to investigate the teachers' complaint and temporarily bar PARS from sending any more teachers to the United States.
PM chair Renato Magtubo said a representative of the teachers recently arrived in Manila and forwarded to DOLE documents pertaining to the case.
"A central mandate of the POEA is the protection of migrant workers. We challenge the POEA to walk their talk and bring an immediate stop to these exploitative practices of recruitment agencies particularly of those involved in this case. It is not only the US-based UPI who is the perpetrator of this injustice but also PARS which acts as its front here in the Philippines," Magtubo said in a statement.
The Inquirer has repeatedly emailed the PARS for comment on the complaint but has not gotten any response.
According to their complaint, the teachers were promised salaries of up to $40,000 a year. However, before being flown to the US, they were made to pay for their placement fees in exchange for their visas, violating a federal law which allows collection of fees only after the recruits get their first paychecks.
Aside from being made to pay various fees such as "evaluation and transcript fee," "processing fee" and "marketing fee," the teachers were made to sign new contracts giving the recruiter portions of their salaries.
The recruiter also made them sign leases for their apartments, which they said were not only costly but also crowded and dilapidated.
The teachers' case has been complicated after school districts that deployed them were found to have paid UPI fees to recruit the Filipinos to fill up vacancies in Louisiana's public schools. Some school districts, after learning of the alleged abuses, demanded their fees back from UPI.