NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Seventeen Filipino workers say they escaped indentured servitude in the United States after being lured here with visas and lies. Promised work at $16.25 an hour with free room and board, they were paid as little as $5.50, stuffed four to a room into a boarding house and charged $3,200 a month apiece for it, “whether they stayed there or not.”
The workers sued Industrial Personnel and Management Services of the Philippines, D&R Resources, of Louisiana and its two individual owners, and five other businesses, in Federal Court. They allege peonage, slavery, human trafficking, conspiracy and other legal violations. They say their bosses even stole their tax refunds.
Also sued are Danilo N. Dayao and Randolph Nunez Malagapo, who own 50 percent of D&R Resources, of Galliano, La.; Thunder Enterprises, which owns the other 50 percent; Grand Isle Shipyards, of Louisiana; Pacific Ocean Manning Inc., a Manila-based recruiter which works in partnership with the final defendant, V People Inc., a Philippines corporation whose principal place of business is in Texas.
“Plaintiffs submitted applications with IPAMS [Industrial Personnel and Management Services]. They were interviewed and required to undergo a trade test, to determine whether they possessed the requisite skills. During the course of the interview, they were told, inter alia, that, if hired, they would be provided transportation to the United States, housing, food, and would be compensated at an hourly rate of $16.25 for regular time, and $24.37 an hour for overtime. Also, plaintiffs were told that they would receive an E2 visa, which would allow them to work in the United States for five years, and eventually they would be able to obtain a green card for permanent residency. …
“Upon successful completion of the trade and medical tests, plaintiffs were informed that they had to go to the United States Embassy in Manila, to be interviewed. … Inexplicably, the offer of employment provided to the United States Embassy official was different from the ones signed by plaintiffs at the office of IPAMS.”
The complaint adds: “The major difference between the two contracts pertained to the wage rate. The one provided to the U.S. Embassy set forth the prevailing wage rate, the rate required for the employment agreement to meet with the required approval. Whereas, on the other hand, the contract maintained by V-P and D&R provided a wage rate significantly below the prevailing rate.
“The contracts were procured through fraud and misrepresentation. IPAMS, POMI, D&R, POMI, and V-P compelled, coerced, deceived, and/or used other deceptive and/or unlawful methods to procure plaintiffs’ signatures on the illegal contracts.
“Plaintiffs executed the contracts because they believed that, in order to work in the United States, they had no choice. Further, they were deceived and otherwise fraudulently induced to sign the contracts with the promise that GIS [Grand Isle Shipyard] would sponsor them for E-2 visas, making them eligible for permanent resident status.
“Based on information and belief, the contract(s) were not approved by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.”
The workers say they were promised that “‘free food and housing [would] be given at the onshore site.'” (Brackets in complaint.) But they say they were charged $3,200 a month per person to live in a bunkhouse in Galliano, four people to a room, “even if they did not stay there.” And they had to buy their own food.
“Plaintiffs were not allowed any input whatsoever in the selection of housing,” the complaint states.
“Upon plaintiffs’ arrival to Louisiana, they were taken to Galliano, Louisiana, where they were assigned to a bunk house, four persons to a room. The bunk house was located at a facility owned by GIS. They were charged $3,200 a month, per person, even if they did not stay there. The amount for housing was automatically deducted from their paychecks absent their consent.”
Even when they escaped from Galliano, things did not improve: “Subsequently they were relocated to Lafitte, Louisiana, where they were assigned to a barge. They were housed in a room 10 x 10, with six workers assigned to a room, and forced to sleep on racks. They were charged $2,000.00 to $3,000.00 per month, based on their earnings. Inexplicably, the more they earned, the more they were charged for the rack.”
The workers say they were held hostage and kept from obtaining identification, such as drivers’ licenses, and their Social Security cards were taken away.
“D&R retained plaintiffs’ Social Security cards. They were informed by Dayao and Malagapo that the cards would be retained by them until the end of five years, which was the duration of the E2 visa. … By retaining and/or refusing to surrender plaintiffs’ Social Security card, D&R sought to exert full and complete control over plaintiffs’ existence during their tenure in the United States.
“Upon expiration of plaintiffs’ contract, they were returned to the Philippines. Within seventy-two hours of their return to the Philippines, they were required to surrender their passports containing their visas to IPAMS and POMI [Pacific Ocean Manning Incorporated]. The passports were returned only if plaintiffs returned to the United States, to work for D & R, GIS and V-P.”
They add: “Plaintiff oftentimes worked seven days a week, 10-12 hours per day, but the compensation received did not equal the hours worked. Plaintiffs were paid a little as $5.50 per hour, woefully short of the agreed upon amount.
“When plaintiffs inquired as to the pay discrepancy, they were threatened with deportation. Further, they were threatened with being reported to POEA [the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration], placed on a ‘blacklist’, and barred from future overseas employment.
“When plaintiffs Maligo and Payagan voiced objections to the pay deficiencies, D&R and GIS proceeded to immediately purchase airplane tickets for them to return to the Philippines. In order to avoid this drastic decision, they escaped.”
The 24-complaint then lists “other acts of intimidation, coercion and manipulation. …
“Plaintiffs were kept in virtual peonage. They were prohibited from going to the store alone. If they wanted to go to Walmart, they had to be accompanied by an American employee, and they had to return within one hour.
“Plaintiffs were prohibited from socializing with the American workers and Filipino nationals residing in the area.
“Plaintiffs were dissuaded and/or prohibited from applying for, and obtaining, state
issued documents: identification cards, driver’s licenses, and twic cards. [Transportation worker identification credential.]
“Plaintiffs were prevented from applying for, and obtaining, benefits to which they were entitled, e.g., twic card. They were also told that it was illegal for them to obtain a driver’s license. This was done to restrict plaintiffs’ freedom of movement and to prevent them from leaving.
“Plaintiffs were instructed to sign documents, and when they inquired as to the nature of the documents, they were told not to ask questions. Based on information and belief, some of those were documents related to plaintiffs’ income tax return. After plaintiffs escaped their condition of involuntary servitude, they applied for an income tax refund, since they had in fact paid taxes. They were informed that they or someone else had already applied for, and received, the refund.”
Finally, the workers say, they sought help from the church.
“Plaintiffs, believing that defendants’ conduct and actions were contrary to the laws of the United States and state of Louisiana, sought the assistance of the Catholic Charities of New Orleans. With the assistance of Catholic Charities, they sought, and obtained, Continued Presence status from the United States Department of Homeland Security, as victims of a severe form of human trafficking.”
They seek punitive damages for forced labor, human trafficking, conspiracy, peonage, slavery, and involuntary servitude.
They are represented by Ronald Wilson of New Orleans.