LOS ANGELES – After announcing that they will fight for justice, Filipino bakery workers could no longer fight back the tears.
They are among 11 workers who filed a civil lawsuit before the Los Angeles Superior Court against Pinoy-owned French bakery L’Amande.
They claim the owner Ana de Almeida promised them specialized jobs at the bakery only for them to work allegedly in slave-like conditions.
“Ana made me work as a domestic servant in her house and in her apartment in Long Beach. And on top of that, preparing for the bakery’s opening (sic). Ana only paid me $370 a month, even though I worked six days a week,” said worker Louise Luis.
“The work days were working 14-hour days everyday for three months consecutively without a break. And they were paid less than $3 an hour,” said staff attorney John Trang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The lawsuit, which includes charges of human trafficking and wage theft, claims that de Almeida, who also owned several bakeries in the Philippines began bringing workers here on E2 visas.
The first bakery in Torrance opened in 2012, while the Beverly Hills branch opened last year.
When workers got here they allegedly had to reimburse de Almeida $11,000 for bringing them to the US.
Workers were allegedly threatened if they complained to authorities. The threats resulted in five allegedly wrongful terminations.
“When the employer’s scheme began to unravel and the California Labor Commissioners Office initiated an investigation into the workplace. The employers escalated their intimidation tactics,” said Trang.
Workers say those tactics included canceling visas and threatening their families in the Philippines.
Romar Cunanan had been working for de Almeida for over a decade, starting in the Philippines. But he never expected the low paying and hard working conditions. He says he felt shocked that someone whom he and other workers were loyal to and helped build her businesses would do such things to them.
Lawyers do not have an estimate of the monetary damages they are seeking, but say the back wages are over a million dollars. Workers no longer employed at the bakery who came through the work visas are now seeking immigration relief through trafficking visas.
Balitang America has reached out to L’Amande and de Almeida’s husband and co defendant Goncalo de Almeida for their side, but they have not responded to our messages.