MANILA, Philippines — An association of Filipino teachers based in Louisiana, US, received Saturday a prestigious award from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), an education sector labor union with almost one million members.
The Filipino Educators Federation of Lousiana (FEFL) was bestowed the President’s International Democracy Award at the ongoing AFT convention in Seattle, Washington.
The award was created two years ago by AFT “to highlight the continuing struggle for human rights around the world.”
News of the award reached Manila through the workers group, Partido ng Manggagawa (Workers’ Party), which has been helping Filipino teachers here and abroad organize themselves.
In a letter to FEFL founding president Ingrid Jomento-Cruz, the AFT said: “We have selected your organization for your perseverance in fighting against the abusive treatment of placement agencies, its dedication to promote the rights and welfare of all educators and migrants, and its commitment to the democratic and legal system.”
AFT said its leaders and staff “have witnessed the immense courage you and your colleagues have displayed in the face of great adversity.”
FEFL has been instrumental in organizing Filipino migrant teachers against the alleged abuses of recruitment agency Universal Placement International (UPI) and its Philippine-based counterpart, PARS International.
With the help of AFT and other groups, the efforts of the Filipino teachers resulted in initial legal victories, including a decision by the Louisiana Workforce Commission ordering UPI to refund up to $1.8 million (about P83.6 million) in fees to the teachers.
Another complaint has been filed with the US Department of Labor.
Three years ago, Cruz and about 300 Filipino teachers were flown to Louisiana for jobs which, their recruiter promised, would give them a salary of $40,000 annually.
The Filipinos protested inflated fees, commissions and rents that their recruiter tried to collect from them in return for their US work visas.
In her acceptance speech, Cruz cited how AFT helped them revisit the Filipino tradition of “bayanihan.”
“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 move it to a new and better location. And believe it or not, the act is done with a happy, festive disposition. We can clearly see the heroes in the community collectively work and sacrifice for each other. In essence, bayanihan is all but one with the spirit of unionism,” she said. –Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer