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by Labor Party - Philippines (PM)
Monday, Aug. 09, 2010 at 3:08 AM
Filipino migrant teachers in Louisiana today (August 5, US Central Time) filed a class lawsuit against Universal Placement International (UPI) and its Philippine based partner, PARS International for various offenses ranging from racketeering, human trafficking, extortion and mail and wire fraud.
Hundreds of Filipino migrant teachers who are working under H1-B visa and are deployed in several school districts in Louisiana are represented in the class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs are spearheaded by the Filipino Educators Federation (FEF) of Louisiana, a group formed to organize the victims of the recruitment agencies and pursue efforts against these same agencies.
Also named as respondents in the complaint are Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro and Hothello “Jack” Navarro of UPI, Emilio Villarba of PARS International; UPI’s law firm Silverman and Associates and lawyer Robert Silverman; and the East Baton Rouge School District and three of its former and one current officers.
The lawsuit arouse from the illegal and highly exorbitant amount that were charged to the Filipino teachers. The recruitment agencies were never transparent and always seemed to come up with additional payments. When teachers attempt to complain or question the policies of the agency they were threatened to be sued or fired or deported back to the Philippines. Aside from the illegal charges, the teachers were intimidated to sign lopsided contracts.
During a press conference held to announce the filing of the suit, a press statement was read by Ingrid Jomento-Cruz, FEF President. “We never imagined that an oppressive racketeering trap was laid before us. Universal Placement International or UPI and its Philippine-based conduit, PARS International, created a non-transparent scheme that starts with earning your trust, then proceeds with a series of payment collection laced with subtle intimidation and then followed through with fraud, coercion and open extortion. We were herded onto a path, a slowly constricting path, where the moment you realize that something is not right, you were already way past the point of no return.”
“This oppressive scheme of UPI and PARS wouldn’t have been totally successful without the knowledge, tolerance and support from individuals who acted on behalf of the School System. We cannot deny the fact that they cooperated with the recruiters or failed to object to actions that they knew were highly questionable if not downright illegal.”
While the East Baton Rouge School District was named as one of the respondents, Jomento-Cruz underscored that they have no animosity against their current employer. “We would like to make it clear that we harbor no ill will towards the Louisiana School System… The new superintendent has paid attention to our concerns and has closely monitored the problems we have encountered…Let me also use this opportunity to declare once again that we continue to have a strong commitment to our students, and will continue to serve the district for we believe that the actions by some individuals within the EBR School District do not represent the values of the institution and the people of Louisiana.”
“The exploitation of migrant workers is an ongoing and a growing problem here in the US. This lawsuit is again another arena of battle to expose these entities that are out to exploit migrant labor. PM joins the call for stronger legislation that will ensure the protection of the rights of migrant labor,” said Ian Seruelo, US Liaison officer of the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM Labor Party).
According to the FEF statement, the objective of the legal action “is to ensure that these exploitative practices end now. We do not want this to happen to any other teachers who come here from the Philippines or anywhere else. And we can not stop these oppressive schemes unless everyone involved understand that they cannot simply look the other way when they encounter abusive practices by recruiters.”
Representing the Filipino teachers is a legal team assembled by the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). AFT and Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) have been instrumental in the struggle of the Filipino teachers. In the Philippines, PM and the PSLINK labor confederation are assisting the teachers’ efforts.
Justice to Filipino migrant teachers!
Filipino Educators Federation (FEF) – Louisiana
Two to three years ago, we made a big sacrifice. We decided to leave our country and start a new life as teachers in a foreign land. At first, we were hesitant to leave our families, our children and our friends; our very own community and the pupils whom we have served and learned to love.
However, the aspiration of securing a better future for our families made our decision easier. We all believe that America is a land full of promise – a promise of opportunity for ourselves and stable future for our families.
So we started our journey, sacrificed all to raise the needed resources, borrowed money from lending agencies, put ourselves deep in debt, selling our properties, resigned from our respective jobs, practically putting in line the very future of our children, of our families.
We never imagined that an oppressive racketeering trap was laid before us. Universal Placement International or UPI and its Philippine-based conduit, PARS International, created a non-transparent scheme that starts with earning your trust, then proceeds with a series of payment collection laced with subtle intimidation and then followed through with fraud, coercion and open extortion. We were herded onto a path, a slowly constricting path, where the moment you realize that something is not right, you were already way past the point of no return.
Of course, this oppressive scheme of UPI and PARS wouldn’t have been totally successful without the knowledge, tolerance and support from individuals who acted on behalf of the School System. We cannot deny the fact that they cooperated with the recruiters or failed to object to actions that they knew were highly questionable if not downright illegal. This is tantamount to aiding and abetting the illegal and oppressive operation of the recruitment agency.
We, members of the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana, would like to make it clear that we harbor no ill will towards the Louisiana School System. We want to emphasize that we love this community and we now consider Louisiana as our home. We think of our students as our own kids. The new superintendent has paid attention to our concerns and has closely monitored the problems we have encountered. And we have had tremendous support from the East Baton Rouge community. We will continue to give our 100 percent to our teaching vocation as we strive to push our students for a brighter future. Let me also use this opportunity to declare once again that we continue to have a strong commitment to our students, and will continue to serve the district for we believe that the actions by some individuals within the EBR School District do not represent the values of the institution and the people of Louisiana.
Now, we are here before you to make public our filing of a class action lawsuit against these abusive recruitment agencies and against all others who are responsible in perpetrating these serious violations against human dignity.
This is going to be a long battle but we are steadfast in our resolve to correct the wrongs that were committed. We are here to assert that there is no room for these oppressive and exploitative schemes in a civilized society. The goal of our lawsuit is to ensure that these exploitative practices end now. We do not want this to happen to any other teachers who come here from the Philippines or anywhere else. And we can not stop these oppressive schemes unless everyone involved understand that they cannot simply look the other way when they encounter abusive practices by recruiters.
We have learned a lot from these experiences, from these struggles. And we are very fortunate to have the support of the American Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the East Baton Rouge Parish Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the law firm Covington and Burling, and the Filipino community here in Louisiana; as well as Philippine-based groups that work with us, the PSLINK labor confederation and the Philippine labor party. We owe a great deal to all of them for they have given us the courage and support to stand up for our rights and have magnified our voice when nobody listened.
Now as we continue to embark on our enduring journey, we call on our colleagues in the Louisiana School System and to the public to support our cause as this is not just a migrant teachers issue but an issue of public interest, an issue that concerns respect for human rights and an issue that concerns the education of our children.
Justice to Filipino migrant teachers! Justice to all migrant workers!
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