Louisiana’s Trafficked Filipino Teachers Take Recruiter to Court

Faced intimidation and exorbitant fees, according to suit.

By Julianne Hing Aug 13, 2010

Universal Placement International Inc. defrauded and illegally trafficked 350 teachers from the Philippines to teach in Louisiana public schools since 2007, says a new class action lawsuit filed in federal court last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the labor union American Federation of Teachers.

According to the lawsuit, UPI and a partner company in the Philippines set up illegal contracts and charged exorbitant fees for teachers to come to the U.S. on H-1B visas. Navarro and her accomplices promised teachers $40,000 salaries, and successfully got people to sell property, raid their savings and go into massive debt to sign onto her scheme. Teachers say that they were forced to pay $16,000 up front to even leave the Philippines, the equivalent of three years of income in that country.

Once in the U.S. they endured shoddy housing and intimidation, and were threatened with deportation if they ever spoke up. Teachers were forced to give 10 percent of their wages for their first two years of employment, which is against the law in Louisiana. Recruiting agencies are allowed to skim workers’ wages for one year.

Business Week reports that the lawsuit also names the East Baton Rouge Public School System and other school districts in California as cooperative parties to the exploitation. According to the SPLC, UPI’s owner Lourdes Navarro was convicted of ripping off the MediCal program in California to the tune of $1 million. She served a year in jail in Southern California, but turned up in New Jersey in 2003, where she pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Predictably, local teachers were not been happy to find out they’d been passed over for recruits from overseas. American teacher unions have been staunch supporters of the exploited teachers. At AFT’s annual gathering in Seattle this year, the Filipino teachers were honored for their fight for justice.

France Castro, the secretary general of the Manila-based Alliance of Concerned Teachers, emphasized the globalized nature of this latest labor exploitation. "It is due to the lack of adequate compensation that our teachers are being forced to leave our country to teach in classrooms in a foreign land," Castro told Filipino outlet ABSCBNNews.com.

"There is also a shortage of teachers here in the Philippines, and yet our teachers would choose to go to different countries for decent wages, even if it means being exploited by greedy placement agencies."

Teachers have been maintaining a blog since 2008 documenting their struggle to bring Navarro to justice. After the lawsuit was filed, bloggers posted a new missive addressing Navarro directly:

Well, you have underestimated us. You have underestimated the power of our unity. You have underestimated the strength of our resolve to get justice. You have underestimated the depth of our determination to bring a stop to your oppressive schemes.