A company that recruited foreign teachers to work in Louisiana schools cheated those teachers out of thousands of dollars and held them in virtual servitude, according to international educators who sought help from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
The LFT and the AFT brought these complaints, which involve multiple violations of state and federal law, to the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the Louisiana attorney general on Sept. 30. Attorneys for the unions are 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," says LFT president Steve Monaghan.
Adds AFT president Randi Weingarten, "The sad picture painted in this complaint brings to mind some of the worst worker abuses in our students' history books: indentured servitude, debt bondage and labor contracts signed under duress. We need to put this part of our history, once and for all, behind us."
Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro, the president of recruiting firm Universal Placement International Inc., is a convicted felon who has served jail time in California and also has been convicted of crimes in New Jersey. After treating some Louisiana school officials to junkets in the Philippine Islands, she was allowed to recruit more than 200 teachers for Louisiana schools.
The LFT 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 his or her monthly salary to UPI for two years. The total amounted to some 37 percent of the teachers' salaries.
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 seek alternative living arrangements. Those who complained were threatened with the loss of their work visas, and some were hit with lawsuits filed in California, where Navarro's company is housed.
In addition to collecting the fees from teachers, Navarro was paid $47,500 by the Louisiana Department of Education to recruit 25 teachers for the Recovery School District in New Orleans.
"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 says. The AFT is collecting stories from other teachers recruited abroad who might have experienced similar mistreatment. Use this form to send us your story.
The union complaint 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 UPI are void, and attorneys' fees.
More details on the case, including sworn statements from some of the Filipino teachers and a longer press release, are posted on the LFT Web site.
Earlier this month, the AFT released a report about the practice of using third-party recruiters to place teachers from other countries in schools. "Importing Educators: Causes and Consequences of International Teacher Recruitment" includes statistics about the practice nationwide, descriptions of abuses from across the country, and recommendations to prevent the abuse and exploitation of teachers. [Video by Matthew Jones.]
October 1, 2009