Feb. 1, 2016
NEW YORK CITY – Maria Elena Bolocon came to the United States from Italy last September under a B1 Business visa, as the domestic employee of Aldo and Aurora Sermoneta, owners of the Sermoneta Gloves Shop in the Upper East Side in New York.
The Sermonetas reportedly promised this Filipina a weekly pay with an hourly rate of $15 and overtime pay rate after 40 hours of work. Plus, she would get the weekends off.
According to her contract, normal work hours would be Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm, with 2-hour lunch breaks.
But Bolocon claimed that in the first three days of her employment, her work day started at 4 am and ended at around 11 pm. Bolocon added that she even worked during lunch breaks.
“I would get pushed, shoved around. I didn’t want to fight back, though,” said Bolocon.
A week later, she was told they would pay her after her second week of employment — at a much-lower rate of $1,800 a month of $450 a week. She expressed, “I said yes. I had no choice, otherwise they would send me back home.”
A month later, Bolocon finally got paid $1,256 for four weeks worth of work — her supposed net wage after income taxes were withheld citing a new “federal law”.
Bolocon also claimed she was threatened with deportation or cancellation of her visa sponsorship for questioning her employers about her wages.
“I was told that they’d report me to immigration authorities. I was told that they would even contact my mother, tell her that I ran away with a man or I was involved with drugs,” she related.
Last October, she escaped from her employers and filed a lawsuit against the Sermonetas with the help of a Filipino organization called Philippine forum.
Lawyer Felix Vinluan said, “It’s basically human trafficking, forced labor. There are also violations of the NY Labor law in terms of the non payment of the minimum wages.”
Rusty Fabunan of the Philippine Forum said, “Not only were terms of the contracted not followed, there are elements of wage theft, as well as physical and verbal abuse.”
A summons has been served to the Sermonetas and they have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.
Bolocon is seeking at least $75,000 worth of unpaid wages and unpaid overtime among other labor law violations.
Balitang America has reached out to the Sermonetas to get their side of the story. They have yet to respond.