Saturday, July 10, 2010

US teachers union pays tribute to Pinoy mentors' courage

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at 07/13/2010 2:48 PM
Updated as of 07/13/2010 2:48 PM

WASHINGTON DC - The million-strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT) paid tribute to the courage of Filipino teachers in Louisiana who braved possible reprisals to expose the exploitation and abuses allegedly committed by a California-based recruiter.
The Washington DC-based teacher’s union bestowed in Filipino mentors with the President’s International Democracy Award, established in 2008 to highlight the continuing struggle for human rights around the world.
Maria Angala, an officer of the AFT-affiliated teachers union in Washington DC, said the Democracy Award is fruit of the unity and common purpose demonstrated by Filipino teachers in America.
The award was received by Ingrid Jomento-Cruz, founding president of the Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana (FEFL).
“We selected your organization for your perseverance in fighting against the abusive treatment of placement agencies, dedication to promote the rights and welfare of all educators and migrants, and commitment to the democratic and legal system,” the AFT citation read.
The award was given at the AFT national convention held in Seattle, Washington over the weekend.
Hundreds of Filipino teachers in various Louisiana public schools rose in protest over abuses allegedly committed by the Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International (UPI) and its Philippine counterpart, PARS International.
The recruitment agencies were found by a Louisiana labor court to have violated various statutes, including overcharging fees and operating without a state permit.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission ordered UPI to return $1.8 million in collected from the Filipino mentors.
The plight of Filipino teachers in Louisiana was first reported by ABS-CBN The Filipino Channel’s Balitang America newscast last year.
Jomento-Cruz said the AFT helped them rediscover the Filipino’s Bayanihan spirit.
The AFT, taking the cudgels for the Filipino mentors, provided the lawyers to pursue their quest for justice in American courts.
“It is most impressively displayed in the old tradition of neighbors helping a relocating family by getting enough volunteers to literally carry the house on their shoulders and moving it to its new location. And believe it or not, that act is done with happy, festive and unexpecting disposition,” she told the audience of more than 3,000 labor unionists and guests from all over the world.
“We can clearly see then that these heroes in our community collectively work and sacrifice for each other and be heroes to one another. Bayanihan is all but one with the spirit of unionism,” Jomento-Cruz declared.
Filipino teachers were represented in the convention by Angala (Washington DC), Aileen Mercado (Baltimore), and Jomento-Cruz and Mairi Nunag (Louisiana).
Guests also included Annie Geron, Secretary General of the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) and Ian Seruelo, US liaison officer of the Partido ng Manggagawa.
A documentary about Filipino teachers in Louisiana was also shown during the convention.
The FEFL was born out of the mentors’ experience there and now aims to combat the victimization of Filipino teachers and other migrant workers against trafficking, recruitment abuses and unfair labor practices.

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