Friday, October 30, 2009

The Quest for Justice

Friends and fellow teachers, we can already hear the wheels of justice turning.  Our quest for justice is moving forward.  The oppressor is now desperate to cover up her criminal acts so we expect her to carry out some desperate actions.  But have no fear for we have the truth on our side.  Let us remain strong as we have nothing to hide.

As we have always advocated since the start of this blog, the key to our victory is our unity.  No amount of threats, no amount of intimidation can muffle our unified voices. No amount of lies, no amount of cover up can suppress the truth.

We would like to give some updates on our efforts and the efforts of our network of advocates.

I.  Federal case versus Lulu Navarro and UPI
Last October 20, the American Federation of Teachers has already filed a federal case against the dreaded Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro and Universal Placement International with the U.S. Department of Labor. See press release from AFT below.

AFT Alleges Louisiana Teacher Recruiter Violated Federal Laws

A company that recruited hundreds of Filipinos to teach in Louisiana schools violated federal laws when it exploited, intimidated and threatened the teachers, according to a complaint filed Oct. 20 by the AFT.

The complaint, delivered to the U.S. Department of Labor, alleges that teachers recruited by Universal Placement International were directed to pay thousands of dollars in fees that federal law dictates should be paid by the employer. The AFT alleges that each teacher paid approximately $15,000 to Universal before working a single day as a teacher, and signed an illegal contract, under duress, requiring payment of additional fees.

"The allegations, backed by the facts, show these teachers to be victims of worker abuses like the ones in our students' history books: indentured servitude, debt bondage and labor contracts signed under duress," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "What makes these allegations especially heinous is that the victims are good teachers, that school districts and tax dollars are involved, and that all this is taking place in 21st-century America." (Read complete article…)

II. Ingrid Cruz, providing a face to our struggles
USA Today featured a very compelling story that reflects the predicament of most of us victims of UPI.  The brave teachers in the story are Teachers Ingrid Cruz, Bernard Pagusara, Ian Cainglet and Luzellene Perez.  This blog salutes all of you!

Federal complaint: Filipino teachers held in 'servitude'
By Greg Toppo and Icess Fernandez, USA TODAY

BATON ROUGE — It has been more than two years since Ingrid Cruz aced a middle-of-the-night video interview in Manila, borrowed $10,000 from her parents and flew halfway around the world to take a job here teaching middle school science.

She was seeking that most American of dreams: a new life, and opportunities she couldn't approach back home. But along the way, Cruz says she has endured intimidation, humiliation, extortion and a long, painful separation from her young daughters.

Cruz is one of more than 300 teachers imported to Louisiana from the Philippines since 2007, a group of educators who say collectively they paid millions of dollars in cash to a Filipino recruiting firm, PARS International Placement Agency, and its sister company, Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International Inc. (Read complete article…)

III. Advice from US Embassy

One of our colleagues went home because her application for the extension of her visa was initially denied.  She reapplied for a new visa and then went to the US Embassy in the Philippines the previous week to have her new visa stamped.  Upon learning that she is from EBR, she was brought to a meeting with agents where she volunteered all information.  The agents are appalled by the exploitation we have experienced from UPI and PARS. She is back here in the US now.

Here are the advice from the US Embassy agents in the Philippines who are investigating the criminal activities of UPI and PARS.  First, stop paying any fees to the agency. Second, to all those who are in the same predicament as our colleague, the US Embassy suggests that you go home and do not worry because the US embassy will help you and make sure you can come back. All you have to do is tell the truth.

(Note: We are not trying to replace the opinion of a lawyer. We are just sharing to you what transpired.)

IV. Efforts in the Philippines

We are happy to announce that we have a new advocate that will handle our legal representation in the Philippines. We will be filing cases against PARS with the POEA and DOLE. (A colleague already submitted more than 60 declarations to Dole Secretary Roque last week.). Our counsel is a respected lawyer, activist and consumer advocate. Also, he is a previous Community Service Awardee of the prestigious UP Alumni Awards.

We would like to thank Partido ng Manggagawa (PM or the Labor Party) for arranging this representation.  We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK).

V. Statement of Support
We would like to feature a solidarity statement from PM.  This blog welcomes the solidarity of any group or individual.  If you or your group supports our cause, send us an email and we will be happy to feature your statement.  We certainly need all the support that we can get.

PM Solidarity Statement
October 29, 2009

Message of Solidarity with the Pinoy Teachers of Louisiana

The Partido ng Manggagawa salutes the brave Filipino migrant teachers in Louisiana. In the name of the working class in the Philippines, we support you in your fight for justice against the illegal and oppressive policies of the recruiter Lulu Navarro. We pledge to help your cause and struggle in any way we can.
You have broken the stereotype of Filipino teachers as meek and submissive slaves who will endure inhuman treatment with hardly a peep. Instead you have stood for what you believe is right despite all the odds and against threats of persecution by Navarro and her minions.

You have proven once again that in unity there is strength and in action lies the possibility of victory. The support you have garnered from the Filipino-American community, the American Federation of Teachers and even the coverage that has been given your issue by the US mass media is testimony to you determination in struggle over the course of almost a year.

With the light at the end of the tunnel ever clearer now as far as achieving your goals of seeking justice, we encourage you to broaden the scope of your fight and raise it to the next level. We ask that add to your agenda the reform of overseas employment policy in order to stop the abuse of Filipino migrant workers. If professionals like teachers can become slave labor in a country like the US, no wonder OFW’s by the thousands suffer from abuse, discrimination and indignity across the globe. (Read complete statement…)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Official complaints filed over mistreatment of teachers

To read the official complaint, complete with exhibits, visit the website of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Please click here. We also embedded below video news reports of Louisiana-based media organizations on the issue.

(Baton Rouge – October 1, 2009) A company that recruited foreign teachers to work in Louisiana schools is guilty of cheating those teachers out of thousands of dollars and holding them in virtual servitude, according to complaints presented to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers by international educators.

The LFT and the American Federation of Teachers brought these complaints to the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the Louisiana Attorney General on Wednesday afternoon.

The charges involve multiple violations of state and federal laws. Attorneys for AFT and LFT said the union is asking that the teachers’ contracts with the California-based recruiter be voided, and that the recruiter be criminally prosecuted under state law.

“The alleged behavior of this recruiter and the treatment of these teachers is quite frankly disgusting and an affront to basic American values,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan.

video
News Report of WDSU Channel 6. Click here to go the original source of this video.

Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, the president of recruiting firm Universal Placement International, is a convicted felon who has served jail time in California and was also convicted of crimes in New Jersey. After treating some Louisiana school officials to Philippine Island junkets, she was allowed to recruit more than 200 teachers for Louisiana schools.

The Federation is acting on behalf of Filipino nationals who were hired in Caddo Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish, Jefferson Parish and the State Recovery School District in New Orleans. Each teacher was charged about $15,000 by Navarro to obtain a job, and was then required to sign over 10 percent of the monthly salary to UPI for two years. The total amounted to some 37% of the teachers’ salary.

Teachers who could not afford to pay the fees up front were directed to loan companies by Navarro, and were charged exorbitant interest rates.

In addition to collecting the fee from teachers, Navarro was paid $47,500 to recruit twenty five teachers by the State Department of Education to recruit teachers for the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Many of the teachers say they were required to pay for housing provided by Navarro. Living four to a two-bedroom apartment, they were not allowed to choose their own roommates or to seek alternative living arrangements.

Those who complained were threatened with the loss of their work visas, according to statements provided by the teachers. Some were hit with lawsuits filed in California, where Navarro’s company is housed.

video
News Report of WBRZ Channel 2. Click here to go the original source of this video.

“To be a foreign national living in Louisiana, facing the threat a lawsuit in California, can virtually guarantee acceptance of the reported indignities imposed by Lulu Navarro and UPI,” said Monaghan.

“As soon as the shackles of these illicit contracts are legally voided, we believe that other migrant educators will come forward with additional complaints,” Monaghan said.

The union complaint, filed with state agencies on Wednesday afternoon, alleges that Navarro and her company violated Louisiana laws regulating private employment services in the state.

The union is asking for restitution for the teachers, fines and appropriate criminal penalties for principals of UPI, a declaration that all the contracts executed by Universal are void, and attorneys’ fees.

Who is Lourdes Navarro?

The president of UPI is a native of The Philippines, currently living in California. In 2000, she pleaded guilty in California court to charges stemming from an insurance scam. In a hand-written confession, she admitted to cheating the state medical program out of more than $1 million, which she laundered into cash. According to the confession, she stole the identity of several physicians to carry out her scheme.

Convicted of fraud, grand theft, identity theft, money laundering and white collar crime, she served time in county prison, five years probation and was ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution.

In 2003, she was convicted of money laundering in New Jersey.

Louisiana law requires disclosure of prior felony convictions as part of the Public Employing Service licensing procedure. Had Navarro applied for such a license, she probably would have been denied.

Neither Navarro nor UPI is licensed to do business in Louisiana as a “private employment service,” begging the question of how she or UPI were able to operate in Louisiana in the first place.

What violations of law are alleged?

Specific violations of Louisiana state law stem from Louisiana statutes and administrative code. They include the following:

• Failure to maintain an office in Louisiana. State law requires an “onsite manager for that location, or an on-site consultant who has successfully passed the private employment service examination.”
• Failure to provide a $5,000 bond to the state.
• Failure to post all the appropriate licenses to operate, an approved applicant schedule of fees, and copies of the Rules and Regulations Governing Private Employment Services.
• Illegally collecting fees from both the employer and the applicant.
• Illegally charging teachers employed in Louisiana fees prior to arriving in the state.
• Illegally charging fees to applicants who were never employed by a Louisiana school system.

The union complaint also raises a question of federal immigration law violations. Fees charged to candidates for the H-1B visas used by Filipino teachers must be paid by the employer, not the employee. But in a letter to the human resources director of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Navarro explained that some $6,600 in visa application fees is charged to the teachers.

In the case of the Recovery School District, Navarro was paid by both the teachers and the state.

“These migrant teachers were exploited by outrageous and illegal fees, and apparently Louisiana taxpayers were likewise exploited,” said Monaghan.

What is the union asking for?

“First and foremost,” says the Union complaint, “these teachers deserve relief from the illegal contracts that bind them to Universal. Because these contracts violate Louisiana law and have not been authorized by the Workforce Commission, they violate public policy and should be declared void…”

The complaint also asks that Filipino teachers be refunded the $15,000 that each of them paid in order to be hired, as well as any other money collected by Universal since their employment.

Finally, the complaint cites state law as saying that an unlicensed employment agent “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars, by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.”

The Federation complaint asks that Navarro be fined and jailed for each of the hundreds of violations that were committed.

What do the Filipino teachers say about Navarro and UPI?

These comments are taken from sworn statements provided by Filipino teachers.

When we arrived in Los Angeles, California, we were made to sign a contract without giving us a chance to read it…We were told that the document is similar to the document that we signed in the Philippines. We hastily signed it…”

“Ms Navarro collected from us the amount of $160 (no receipt was given to us) for apartment rental. When we arrived here in EBR, we were not given the chance to choose where to stay and with whom.” (Anonymous Teacher “A”)

I received my (Social Security) card after two months with the envelop open. UPI received my card in California and I am afraid that I lost my privacy and security for what they did to me. I was also instructed to sign a paper which I was not given a chance to read the 4 to 5 pages contract.”

“We were warned not to ask a lot of questions regarding the contract because according to Francis, Miss Navarro doesn’t like people questioning those stuff.” (Anonymous Teacher “B”)

“I have so many loans in the Philippines, in fact, I was not able to support my 3 children and husband because all my salary goes to FINANCING AGENCIES which I borrowed just to pay for PARS [sister company to UPI] and UNIVERSAL.”

“Lulu Navarro…warned us again not to talk and mingle with the Filipino teachers who were ahead of us here in the U.S. She also warned us not to mingle with the Filipino community in Baton Rouge.”

“Lulu Navarro asked this question: “Who among you ride with American teachers in going to school?” …she called me in my phone and telling me not to ride any more nor talking to Americans…”

“Mrs. Navarro always scared us, and saying that if we will not follow her, she can send us back home to the Philippines, which stress me so much, I don’t do nothing just CRY.” (Anonymous Teacher “C”)



To all our fellow teachers, this is what we have been waiting for. To those who said before that this blog is merely engaging in useless chit-chats, this is for you. This blog is proud to be part of this campaign and struggle. - Gurong Gala

Monday, September 21, 2009

Spread the Word and Support our Online Petition!

A group of Filipino workers and professionals here in the US together with an assembly of teachers based here Louisiana, in cooperation with this blog, have banded together as Bayanihan para sa Manggagawa at Migranteng Pinoy (BMMP). BMMP aims to educate our fellow Filipinos of the hard realities of working abroad. Below is a warning email that we are currently distributing online. Copy and paste the article below and send to your family, friends and network.

We are also embedding videos from The Filipino Channel (TFC) shared by an advocate and a supporter of our cause from www.consumersdomain.blogspot.com.

Please take note that at the end of this warning, we are asking you to support our efforts by signing in our online petition. Maraming salamat!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A warning to all Filipinos intending to work in the USA

We are a network of Filipino migrant teachers and Filipino residents here in the US. We came together – victims, friends and family – to be able to educate others of the exploitative practices of some placement agencies. We want to spread the word as we don’t want more Filipinos to experience what many of us went through under some placement agencies whose operations are bordering on human trafficking.

We would like to call the attention of those who are planning to work in the US as teachers or any other profession. If not you, you may have a relative or a friend who is intending to apply for a working visa in the US through a placement or recruitment agency.

We want to underscore the importance of checking the background of these placement or recruitment agencies. It is not enough that these agencies are accredited with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). For while many of them are accredited, they may have a history of suspensions and violations; or even exploitative policies that have hurt a lot of Filipino workers, both financially and psychologically.

We advise you to get as much information about the placement/recruitment agency that you will be paying with your hard-earned money. Some placement agencies will also take advantage of your lack of familiarity about laws and processes regarding migrant labor.


video
Report filed by TFC correspondent Don Tagala featured in Balitang America, Sept. 8, 2009

Our experiences with Universal Placement International (UPI) and PARS International Placement are good examples. We want to be able to educate as many Filipinos as possible about the modus operandi of these agencies as we know how it feels to be deep in debt, deceived, harassed and exploited while in a foreign territory.

UPI, headed by Lourdes Navarro aka Lulu Navarro, is based in Los Angeles, California. PARS, headed by Emilio Villarba (brother of Navarro), on the other hand handles their operations in the Philippines and is based in Quezon City. These are two agencies that you have to avoid.

First and foremost, it is important to note that Lourdes Navarro is a notoriously devious and manipulative criminal who is a convicted felon in the State of California for fraud, grand theft, money laundering, and identity theft.

Secondly, UPI and PARS will make everyone believe that there is a job waiting for all approved applicants here in the US. Indeed your visa will indicate the name of your employer. The problem however is that these agencies qualify and approve more candidates than the slots required for a certain employer. Clearly, the more people they send, the more placement fees they collect. Thus many end up attending job fairs with the hope of being hired by another prospective employer.

Third, UPI and PARS will charge you exorbitant fees. Before leaving the Philippines, they will charge you upfront with 20% of your projected annual gross income, which is over the 10% and staggered basis allowed by law. This overcharging of placement fees and its premature collection is tantamount of illegal recruitment, a violation of a Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 and P.D. 442 or the Labor Code of the Philippines. As a way to circumvent these laws, however, these agencies will intentionally avoid being transparent as to what the payment is for and to whom the payment is due by issuing temporary or acknowledgement receipts.

Fourth, once in the US you will start to discover the anomalies about your transaction with UPI and PARS. For a start, immediately upon arrival they will require you to sign a contract with UPI that stipulates that you are required to pay 10% of your monthly salary for 24 months. This document was never provided nor was this information given prior to your trip to the US nor will UPI initiate a discussion on the contents of this one-sided contract. So, after borrowing money back home to pay 20% of your projected income, you think that your placement fee is already paid for. But you are wrong! Navarro will use this new contract to bill you another 10% of your monthly salary on your second year!

Fifth, Navarro will further milk you dry with her other tricks. To ensure she will get the most from you, Navarro will place you in a dilapidated apartment unit that she has pre-negotiated with the owner. To accommodate Navarro’s kickbacks, the rent is padded, so you end up paying very high rent for a rundown apartment.

Sixth, once you ask questions and start to complain about your situation, Navarro will now utilize her manipulative and harassment tactics. Navarro will threaten you that she can have you deported anytime, or that she can influence your employer to terminate you. She will intimidate you by calling you and berate you like a rabid dog. She will go as far as suing you knowing that you have no resources to defend yourself or network to be able to figure out a way to fight back. Known to flaunt her wealth and connections, she has been successful at instilling fear among many of us.

These are just the broad strokes of our experiences here. Our journey towards a dream for our families is now becoming to be a living nightmare. So we call on all our fellow Filipinos who are planning to work in the US or other destinations to be very careful about the choice of a placement/recruitment agency. Be very inquisitive and make sure that your investments are in good hands.

We also call that you support our cause as we are mustering our strength to fight back. We need your support to bring these shady recruiters to justice.

To express your solidarity, please include your name in our online petition to the concerned Philippine government agencies, the POEA, DOLE and the Philippine Embassy; and to the Philippine Congress. Visit this link: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/protect-filipino-migrant-teachers-and-all-migrant-workers.html.

For updates, please visit www.pinoyteachershub.blogspot.com. For messages of support please write to teachers.pinoy@gmail.com.

Please forward this email to all your contacts so more Filipinos will be forewarned.

Bayanihan para sa Manggagawa at Migranteng Pinoy (BMMP)


video
TFC's Adobo Nation featured our issue, Sept. 14, 2009. Lulu Navarro, panis ka!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A call to boycott payment of the 10% fees!

A call to boycott payment of the 10% fees!
A call to repudiate our contract with UPI!

Immediately upon our arrival here in the US, we were asked to sign a contract with Universal Placement International (UPI). There was no effort by UPI to explain the stipulations of the contract nor were we given substantial time to review the document.

We were told by UPI that the contract is simply the same as the one that we signed with PARS in the Philippines. And those who questioned were met by intimidation, with the threat of being sent back home. Still exhausted from the long trip, we signed the document despite our apprehensions.

It is clear that UPI intended to hide the details of the one-sided contract from all of us. It is now apparent that Lourdes Navarro is deliberately concealing important information from her clients.

She knows that once we arrive here in the US, we will have no other option but to follow her policies no matter how oppressive or unjust. Navarro knows that we can not easily back out as we have already spent a lot for the processing of our visa, placement fees, plane fare and other related expenses. Further she is aware that we don’t have our family and friends here whom we could easily approach for help.

This unjust contract with UPI stipulates that: “For the first twenty-four (24) months of employment, Client will pay Agency ten percent (10%) of client’s gross monthly income, payable monthly, commencing with the 1st pay period.” We were made to believe that the 20% of our projected annual gross income that we paid upfront to UPI and PARS in the Philippines is already our payment for the placement fee. Some of us thought the 20% fee we paid earlier is already our advance payment to the 10% being asked for in the contract.

On top of the 20% that we already paid, we are appalled that we will then be made to pay another round of fees – 10% of our monthly gross salary on our second year – which was never discussed or agreed upon in the Philippines.

The 10% additional fee is unjust! In fact we have paid more than what is required for us by the deceitful contract. While we only received a temporary or acknowledgement receipt for our payment, it is a hard evidence that shows that we have paid PARS and UPI 20% of our projected gross annual income. Bear in mind that we have not signed any other document requiring us to pay the 20% to UPI but we did, in good faith.

Further the contract has many questionable provisions and unfair stipulations. If you read the whole contract, it is full of provisions that ensure that the gluttonous Navarro receives our fees and get to keep the payments in all possible scenarios. See Sections A, B, D paragraph 3, E and G – that is a total of 13 paragraphs to protect the pockets of Navarro.

On the other hand, in the lopsided contract we are only given one provision, just one short paragraph, where we can collect from UPI. Section F on “Refund” states “In the event that the Agency does not provide client with at least one interview with a prospective employer, through no fault of the client, then agency will refund to Client US$150.00.”

One hundred and fifty US dollars!!! Half of the $300 required upon signing of the contract (section A paragraph 1). It simply means that in our agreement with UPI, whatever happens Navarro gets to keep the thousands of dollars that we paid! But if UPI does not perform its end of the agreement they will simply give us $150!!!

Observe further how this unjust contract describes UPI’s end of the agreement – “provide client with at least one interview.” Is that what they promised us – one interview? Lest we forget, what UPI committed to us are jobs!

In simple terms this is what PARS and UPI wants to happen: Give Navarro $300 and she promises to provide you her services, then give her $1000 so she will process your papers, then give her $10,000 for placement fee, then give her 10% of your income in your second year. But if Navarro fails to do what she promised, then she is willing to give you back $150!

Lulu Navarro, a convicted felon, is preying on our vulnerabilities as individuals. This greedy criminal will continue these corrupt and oppressive practices not only against us but against more of our Filipino brothers and sisters who, just like us, are hoping to fulfill their dreams for their respective families.

Navarro’s strategy is to divide us and prevent us from uniting against her, from voicing out the oppression we went through. Please let us not allow UPI, PARS and Navarro to continue bullying us. Let us not allow UPI, PARS and Navarro to hurt more families.

The time for fence-sitting has expired. The time to procrastinate is over. We are left with no choice but to fight back together! We are left with no other option but to fight now! Join us as we attack this monster from both the legal front and through democratic actions.

Let us boycott the payment of the 10% fees!

Let us boycott UPI in the renewal of our visa and in any other transaction!

Let us repudiate this excessive and deceitful contract with UPI!


Signed:

Pinoy Educators Network (PEN)

(To be part of this campaign and the actions that we are undertaking, please email your complete name and cell phone number to gurongwagi@pinoy.org. One or two of our leaders will get to meet with you once we verify your identity. Remember that you can trust us with your identity as this blog is the number one enemy of Lulu Navarro.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Let's continue to expose the UPI anomaly!

We would like to convey our solidarity to our colleagues who are coming out to expose the continuing anomaly we call Universal Placement International. Your stories are not different from our experiences – stories of being deceived by the criminal Lulu Navarro, stories of being bilked dry by this scheming (dis)placement agency, stories of sacrifice for our families and loved ones back home.

We would like to once again call for unity as we counter this affront to our rights and dignities. We would like to once again renew our plea to our fellow teachers to open your eyes and see that it is only through our collective efforts can we effectively stop this oppression.

As we expect, Lulu Navarro and Universal Placement International will hype that these commendable teachers endangered our jobs by speaking up. And for sure, Lulu’s sidekicks will also start a hate campaign against these teachers to please their master.

She will continue to spread rumors that our employer will be upset if we voice out our issues and problems with the agency. She will continue to instill fear in us by repeating a tall tale that she has the power to influence the board of our school districts to terminate us arbitrarily.

We also expect that Lulu Navarro will call and confront her “suspects” and start intimidating them. We know that Lulu will again utilize her strong arm tactics to bully us just like what she did with this blog. But she will again fail. (We will give you a detailed update on Lulu’s failed legal action against this blog next time.)

Let us not allow Lulu Navarro to divide us with her threats and rhetoric. Let us not allow the agency to silence us with their scheming tactics.

Let us be steadfast in our resolve. This is not going to be easy as we are facing a hardened convict. But as we have always underscored, the strength of our movement is founded on our commitment and our unity.

Fellow teachers let us support our brave colleagues and participate in our ongoing efforts to bring justice to our cause. Lulu Navarro is for sure in panic mode now as she knows that her happy corrupt days are nearing its end.

Good luck and more power to all of us!