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US labor union takes cudgels for Filipino teachers

By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:16:00 10/04/2009

Filed Under: Overseas Employment, Labor

MANILA, Philippines ? An education labor union in the United States has lent its support to some 200 Filipino teachers allegedly being exploited by their recruiter in Louisiana.

In a statement, the American Federation of Teachers said that the Filipinos? complaints against Universal Placement International Inc., which is based in Los Angeles, have been brought before the Louisiana Workforce Commission in the state capital Baton Rouge.

The teachers have accused their recruiter of violating labor laws and charging exorbitant and illegal fees, nonpayment of which would mean loss of their jobs and visas.

?If official investigations bear out the allegations ? and we believe they will ? then the ugly truth is that teachers are being treated like chattel in the US, in the 21st century, with the support of tax dollars,? AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement posted on AFT?s website.

Weingarten called on the Louisiana state officials to take steps to protect the teachers from further exploitation, to ?thoroughly? investigate the allegations, to seek the return of any fees collected illegally, to ?aggressively? prosecute the recruiter if violations are found, to enforce existing state laws to prevent future abuses, and to enact additional laws to regulate recruitment agencies.

Founded in 1916, AFT is the US? second largest education union and is based in Washington, D.C. It represents more than 1.4 million teachers.

The plight of the Filipino teachers was exposed by the militant group Partido ng Manggagawa in November 2008. The teachers, recruited by UPI?s partner, PARS International Placement Agency, were deployed in five different school districts in Louisiana but most of them are in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.

The teachers said their original contract stipulated that 10-percent of their monthly gross for two years shall be paid to the agency. However, the teachers paid upfront in advance 20-percent of ?expected? gross income for one year.

The teachers also claimed that their contracts were signed and its contents disclosed to them only several days or even a day before their scheduled flight. Also the teachers are practically in debt bondage since they were forced to take out loans to pay the $8,000 to $10,000 placement fees.

The teachers said they were forced to live in dilapidated, pest-infested apartment units despite the presence of better and cheaper apartments around the area.



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