Sunday, April 25, 2010


The recruitment agency caught in a bitter contract dispute with about 360 Filipino teachers in Louisiana insists it disclosed all the conditions, including fees they had to pay, even before they signed their contracts to work in the United States.

Louisiana Administrative Judge Shelley Dick earlier found Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International (UPI) liable for operating without a license; and violation of least five state labor laws on the collection of various fees from the Filipino teachers.

UPI is operated by Fil-Am businesswoman Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro from its headquarters in Los Angeles, California. They had previously declined requests for comment.

“It’s not that we didn’t want to air our side. We were instructed by our lawyers not to talk,” a female UPI executive told this reporter in a phone interview, asking not to be identified.

UPI furnished us with a written statement that aimed to refute the accusations against the recruitment firm.

They countered that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and its parent organization, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) were secretly fomenting the dispute to stop foreign teachers from landing jobs in the US.

“They openly fought against the placement of foreign teachers in Caddo Parish. When they lost that battle, the Union (LFT) has now attacked Universal Placement by filing a false and defamatory letter complaint,” the statement read.

The AFT, which has 1.4 million members across the country, provided the lawyers for Filipino teachers because they couldn’t afford them (some Filipino teachers hold executive positions in some of the federation’s 43 state affiliates).

“Universal provides a legal and lawful service to the school district and the teacher.

“For this service they expect to earn a fee. The fee is based upon a contract provided to the teacher and signed by the teacher.

“The fee is comparable to any other placement fee charged by any other company,” they explained.

“While a teacher can remain in the US for six years on an H-1B visa…the contract between the teacher and Universal is for only two years.

“On average, the two-year fee for this will total $8,000-$10,000 based upon the amount earned by the teacher,” the statement said.

Under their contracts, the teachers were obligated to pay 10 percent of their salaries to UPI (in addition to fees paid), for two years starting on the 2nd year of their employment.

Teachers in Louisiana reportedly earn from $45,000-$60,000 a year.

“This is a very small price to live and work in America,” the UPI statement declared, criticizing the LFT and AFT for labeling their fees as excessive.

But Randi Weingarten, AFT president, clearly signaled they will continue supporting the Filipino teachers.

“This decision is a victory for teachers and for fundamental human rights.

“We applaud the Filipino teachers themselves, who showed great courage in asserting their rights, banding together and challenging a company that sought to oppress them through fraud, threats and intimidation,” she averred.

“We also applaud the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and our local affiliates in Louisiana, who stood with – and stood up for – these teachers.

“The decision should give pause to other companies who would consider exploiting teachers or other workers,” Weingarten stressed.

She acknowledged the administrative court decision was just the start of a possibly protracted legal battle with UPI.

“With this first legal hurdle cleared, we are thrilled that the teachers can focus all their attention on what they love and what they are good at – teaching students,” the AFT chief added.

The Louisiana labor tribunal ordered UPI to refund at least $1.8 million in “marketing fees” collected from the teachers.

The Filipino mentors allegedly paid at least $15,000 each to UPI and PARS. But in the court filings, it was estimated the teachers paid $5,000 each in “marketing fees”.

Judge Dick ordered UPI to refund the “placement fees” but did not put a precise dollar amount. “Scrutiny of these fees is not within the regulatory authority of this Commission,” the magistrate declared.

UPI was also directed to pay litigation expenses and a $500 fine for operating without a license in Louisiana.

The recruitment agency could face criminal prosecution (a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or six months imprisonment, or both) for operating without a license; and a possible federal indictment for compelling teachers to pay for their visa processing fees.

“The bottom line is this is nothing more than a private dispute between Universal and teachers over the fees agreed to by written contract.

They stressed that the teachers were aware of the fees and how much they had to pay UPI before they signed their contracts.

“These teachers have refused to honor their written contractual agreement,” she said.

“We could have sourced our teachers elsewhere. But we wanted to help our countrymen and now because of what happened, our teachers can’t go here anymore,” she averred.

As the case grinds through the US justice system, the controversy merely highlights the travails of Filipino teachers, put off by the lack of opportunities back home, are ready to live by the knife’s edge just to get a slice of the “American dream”.

1 comment:

  1. What is sad is the Teacher's Union are pretending to help our foreign teachers (Filipinos, Chinese, French, Hispanic, etc). The real agenda is to stop them from getting a chance to live the American dream.

    * We can't give jobs if we falsely punish the job giver...