Complaint Filed Against Recruiter of Teachers

Complaint filed against recruiter of teachers

By Kevin McGill
The Associated Press, October 2, 2009

New Orleans (AP) — A teacher union has filed complaints with state authorities alleging a company that recruits Filipino teachers for Louisiana schools is operating illegally in the state, and charging the teachers exorbitant, illegal fees.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers said the teachers were cheated out of thousands of dollars. The LFT filed complaints with the state Attorney General's Office and the Louisiana Workforce Commission against Universal Placement Services of Los Angeles.

'This is about human rights,' LFT President Steve Monaghan said during a Thursday news conference in Baton Rouge. 'It's disgusting, it's un-American and it's unacceptable.'

The complaints were filed on behalf of Filipino teachers working in Caddo, East Baton Rouge and Jefferson parishes and in state-run schools in New Orleans. The company did not respond to a telephone request for comment from its director.

The union said the teachers should be relieved from their contracts binding them to Universal and that Universal should refund approximately $15,000 in fees that each teacher allegedly paid to be hired.

According to the complaint to the Workforce Commission, there are more than 200 Filipino school teachers working in at least five school systems in Louisiana, including the four mentioned in the complaint, plus Avoyelles Parish. The union alleges teacher recruits in the Philippines were initially charged $6,600 in fees covering costs including training, travel, medical exams, legal fees and visas.

'After the Filipino teachers received job offers, Universal then required the teachers to pay an additional placement fee of 20 percent of their first year's annual gross income, which averaged between $8,000 to $10,000 per teacher depending on their projected salary,' the complaint alleges.

It also alleges that Universal referred the teachers to predatory lending agencies to cover the fees agencies that charged interest rates of 3-5 percent per month.

More fees and expensive legal entanglements followed once the teachers arrived in the United States, the complaint alleges. Those included contracts in which the teachers agreed to pay 10 percent of their monthly income to Universal for 24 months, and fees for annual visa renewals.

The complaint also alleges the company holds the immigration documents of the teachers to coerce payments.

The complaint alleges various violations of state law by Universal, including failing to maintain an office and file a bond in Louisiana, failure to obtain a required state license and, in New Orleans, illegally collecting fees from both the teachers and from the state-run Recovery School District, which the union says paid Universal for recruiting services.

Paul Vallas, superintendent of the RSD, acknowledged Thursday that the district used Universal's services and other recruiting agencies in the summer of 2007 when it was suffering a severe teacher shortage.

'We used them to a limited degree,' Vallas said. 'There were a number of recruiting agencies that had been recommended. This was one of them. They recommended 60 teacher candidates, 19 of which we hired and all were eminently qualified.

'We only compensated them for the number of teachers that were recruited and we are now sponsoring those teachers, helping them in securing or renewing their visas and their compensation is covered within our system.'

Vallas said the RSD ended its contract with Universal, preferring to work with not-for-profit groups like Teach for America.

'We felt they were a bit too aggressive,' Vallas said of Universal. 'We just are not comfortable dealing with for-profit recruiting companies. When for-profit companies are too eager to offer us things, that always makes us a bit suspicious.'

Vallas said the district had not received any complaints about Universal, which was vetted by the state as part of its procurement process.

'I'm not suggesting that the people were not exploited, but the district's human resources department is interviewing the teachers individually to see if there are any concerns.'

Daniel McNeil, an attorney with the American Federation of Teachers, said additional complaints will be filed with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Justice and Department of Homeland Security, citing possible violations of federal criminal and immigration laws.


Company that brought Filipino teachers to Caddo being investigated
By Icess Fernandez
The Times (Shreveport, LA), October 2, 2009