By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
Mar 1, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO – An activist group that looked into the plight of Filipino workers at Grand Isle Shipyard in New Orleans has returned to San Francisco with disturbing findings.
Members of the group called Justice for Filipino Grand Isle Shipyard Workers Campaign allege that since 2008, Grand Isle Shipyard has reportedly trafficked about 500 workers from the Philippines with promises of visas, pay above $16/hour and quality jobs as welders, scaffolders and pipefitters. Upon their arrival however, the workers were only paid five dollars an hour for working up to 14 hours a day, up to seven days a week, sometimes up to four months straight with no overtime pay.
The activists said the workers also dealt with unreasonable deductions in their pay that went into housing, as they were made to pay up to $3,000 per month for a bunk bed. They also claimed that the company stole the workers’ tax refunds.
“Several dozen of them have now been granted T-visas. As victims of human trafficking, this vindicates the stories they’ve been telling about how they’ve been recruited and trafficked from the Philippines,” said Terry Valen, chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.
While in Louisiana, Valen and other activists held a protest against Grand Isle Shipyard and the workers’ recruiters , after more details of ill-treatment and discrimination of the Filipino workers were revealed.
“What they said was that they were being treated differently from their American coworkers. They are mostly Catholic, like many Filipinos. But they were not allowed to practice it. They were not allowed to go to Church in the New Orleans area,” Valen said.
While in Louisiana, the activists organized a freedom ride, a 21-car caravan that drove through New Orleans, demanding justice for the Filipino shipyard workers.
While a number of the Filipino workers have decided to sue their employer, about 160 of them have chosen to stay silent.
They said these workers continue to work at Grand Isle Shipyard despite their dire situation there.
The advocates plan to bring the stories of the Grand Isle Shipyard workers when they go to Washington DC and meet with legislators next month.
They said the only way human trafficking and modern-day slavery to stop — is for the federal government to step up and sanction companies perpetrating them. They also want President Obama to eliminate what they call the exploitative guest workers programs as part of immigration reform.
Meantime, in Louisiana, Filipino workers who filed a class action lawsuit against Grand Isle Shipyard petitioned the court to cite in contempt their former employers.
Court records obtained by Balitang America show that since the order, Grand Isle Shipyard has allegedly intimidated the Filipino workers, by reportedly ignoring or denying their requests for employment certifications and verifications.
Those who filed the lawsuit claim they are also being threatened with job abandonment and deportation.
Grand Isle Shipyard has earlier filed a separate motion to modify a protective order with sanctions, alleging that some of the workers violated a court order by providing interviews to media.
You may contact Henni Espinosa at email@example.com for more information.
With a report from Don Tagala.