04/16/2010

Judge Rules in Favor of Exploited Filipino Teachers

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A Louisiana Workforce Commission administrative law judge has ruled in favor of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the AFT and Filipino educators who were victims of an illegitimate California-based recruiting firm.

"This is more than just a victory for the Filipino teachers who were abused by the company," says LFT president Steve Monaghan. "It is a validation of the rule of law, and a commitment by the state of Louisiana to protect the rights of all working people."

Responding to allegations filed by the AFT and the LFT, Judge Shelly Dick on April 16 ordered Universal Placement International to repay Filipino teachers an estimated $1.8 million in illegally charged placement fees, as well as to pay a $500 fine and $7,500 in attorneys fees. The commission also will refer the case to appropriate authorities for criminal sanctions against UPI and its owner, Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro.

"This decision is a victory for teachers and for fundamental human rights," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "We applaud the Filipino teachers themselves, who showed great courage in asserting their rights, banding together, and challenging a company that sought to oppress them through fraud, threats and intimidation. We also applaud the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and our local affiliates in Louisiana, who stood with—and stood up for—these teachers. The decision should give pause to other companies who would consider exploiting teachers or other workers."

The allegations against the company and Navarro were filed last fall on behalf of about 360 Filipino nationals who were hired in Caddo Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish, Jefferson Parish and the State Recovery School District in New Orleans. (See earlier story.) Some of those teachers arrived in the United States to find that the promised jobs were not available.

Navarro charged each teacher about $5,000 in placement fees to obtain a job, and was then required to sign a contract obligating them to pay 10 percent of their second-year salaries to the company. 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 fees from teachers, Navarro was paid $47,500 by the state Department of Education to recruit teachers for the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

According to the ruling, each teacher is to be repaid the initial placement fees because they were collected "prior to actual commencement of work" in violation of Louisiana law.

"As the legal process moves forward, we will continue to provide support for our members and our affiliates," Weingarten says. "With this first legal hurdle cleared, we are thrilled that the teachers can focus all their attention on what they love and what they are good at—teaching students."

More information on the case is available on the LFT Web site. [Louisiana Federation of Teachers, AFT press release]

April 16, 2010