October 22, 2009
AFT Alleges Louisiana Teacher Recruiter Violated Federal Laws
Union calls for recruiter to be held accountable, teachers to be reimbursed for illegal fees
WASHINGTON—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 this week by the American Federation of Teachers.
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,” said 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.”
Although employers—in this case the school districts that filed for the visas—are bound by federal law to match visa applicants to a job and pay them the promised salary, the complaint includes statements from two visa recipients struggling to pay back their enormous debts because they didn’t receive the jobs or a refund from Universal. The complaint further alleges that Universal President Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, the company’s attorney, and an East Baton Rouge school district official retaliated against an applicant who had objected to the exorbitant fees. In addition, it appears that Universal and at least some of the school systems submitted false statements in order to exceed the cap for H-1B visas.
“We filed this federal complaint because we want to do everything possible to end this exploitation, which is hurting good teachers and making it difficult for them to succeed in their classrooms,” said Weingarten.
The AFT is calling on federal officials to protect these teachers from further exploitation, to thoroughly investigate the allegations, and to seek the return of any fees collected illegally. The AFT also is seeking aggressive prosecution of the recruiter for any violations of current law, and is working with Congress to enact additional laws to regulate recruitment agencies and to protect teachers and other nonimmigrant workers who obtain visas.
In late September, the AFT’s Louisiana affiliate filed a complaint with state agencies regarding allegations that Universal had violated Louisiana law. The state complaint is posted on the Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ Web site, http://la.aft.org. That complaint came on the heels of an AFT report, released Sept. 14, about the practice of using recruiters to place teachers from other countries in U.S. schools. “Importing Educators: Causes and Consequences of International Teacher Recruitment” includes statistics about the practice nationwide, descriptions of abuses across the country, and recommendations to prevent abuse and exploitation of teachers. The federal complaint was filed Oct. 20 on behalf of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and AFT members who work in several Louisiana parish school systems.
The federal complaint and the “Importing Educators” report are available at www.aft.org/topics/migration.
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The AFT represents more than 1.4 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.