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.

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.

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