State teaching organization alleges foreign teachers held in "virtual servitude" - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

State teaching organization alleges foreign teachers held in "virtual servitude"

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By Tyana Williams - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For a year, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers says they have been investigating a California-based company that sent hundreds of Filipino teachers to the state.  They say someone did not do their homework because the company, Universal Placement International, doesn't have a license in Louisiana.  The LFT and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers has filed complaints with the attorney general and the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

The LFT says Universal Placement International made Filipino teachers pay $15,000 to come to the United States to teach.  They allege the teachers were also told, they would have to pay a portion of their monthly checks to UPI.  They say of the 200 teachers they know about, 160 are working in Baton Rouge.  LFT believes UPI violated the law to get these foreign teachers here.

In 2007, East Baton Rouge hired six Filipino teachers over the internet to teach in the parish. Administrators said they had a serious shortage of teachers in math, science and special education.  Hiring them opened the door for EBR to hire more.

"A group from Human Resources department and some principals fly to Philippines to interview one-on-one," says EBR School Spokesman Chris Trahan.  Trahan says recruiting company Universal Placement International donated money to help pay for the trip.  "One of the reasons that we started working with UPI is because we saw the state department of education had actually contracted with them."

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers says the Recovery School District paid UPI $47,500 to hire 25 teachers in 2008.

"They are in EBR, in the Recovery School District in New Orleans, in Caddo Parish, in Jefferson," says LFT President Steve Monaghan.  Monaghan says had someone done their research, they would have found that UPI never applied for a license in Louisiana.

He also says the Louisiana Workforce Commission never approved any contracts for UPI.

"We've learned that the teachers that have been brought to United States through this process have paid upwards of $15,000 each.  For the right to come to the U.S. and teach."

Jobs that some Filipino teachers say they never got.  In June, 9 News met with some of these educators.  They were scared to reveal their identities.  During the interview, they said they paid their $15,000, were sent to Baton Rouge but never got a job.

"I thought this is my dream place because this is my dream to come to this country.  Because this is a promise land. I thought this is, but its not," one of the teachers said.

The women said they were told not to befriend anyone outside the organization.  And with all their money gone, they could not afford to get back to their families in the Philippines.

Monaghan says they also found a woman named Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro, the president of UPI was convicted of money laundering in New Jersey and California.

"It's disgusting.  It's un-American, and it's unacceptable," says Monaghan.

EBR does still employ several of these teachers, and continues to pay them.  The Louisiana Federation of Teachers says they want the contracts UPI signed with the Filipino teachers to be voided.  LFT also wants the teachers money given back. EBR says they have suspended all international recruiting.

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