FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 8, 2011
Carlo Parapara Emmelle Israel
President Media Liaison
Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) Katarungan: Center for Peace Justice
Email: carloparapara@PEN-USA.org and Human Rights in the Philippines
Phone: 443.889.1838 Phone: 410.701.0520
Prince George’s County Foreign Teachers to Demand Justice at White House Gates
Prince George’s County, MD foreign teachers and their supporters plan to picket in front of the White House on August 9 from 3 to 5pm to draw attention to the injustice handed to them by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).
On July 7, the DOL and PGCPS reached a settlement agreement after the DOL had found PGCPS to be a willful violator of H1B regulations. For effectively underpaying teachers on H1B visas, PGCPS agreed to pay back wages, a $100,000 penalty, and to be debarred for 2 years meaning an end to their ability to continue to sponsor any foreign workers.
The foreign teachers and their supporters are enraged that the settlement effectively terminates their employment and potentially their lawful presence in the U.S. Their protest rally is aimed at showing their outrage at the blatant injustice and to bring to the Obama administration’s attention another aspect of U.S.’ broken immigration system.
“It’s a travesty that these victimized teachers who have successfully raised the standard of education in PG county are now unceremoniously dismissed without regard to their performance or seniority,” says Joanna Quiambao from Katarungan, a Filipino-American grassroots human rights organization. “This is how some foreign workers become undocumented through no fault of their own.”
The teachers’ supporters are seeking audience with representatives of the White House’s Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. They plan to discuss an equitable solution for the teachers and highlight the deficiencies they experienced with the H1B program and immigration system.
“How in the world can I go back to the Philippines in 9 days? I have a car loan, doctors' appointments, financial obligations, etc. My family is with me here, we cannot just pack our bags and go home. This is our life at stake, we need to plan for it ! Talk about injustice! They could not even give a 45 day notice like our apartment does,” exclaims Ms. Gumanoy, one of the hundreds of teachers impacted.
"We are pursuing all legal channels to appeal the decision, but because of the urgency of the situation, the teachers have been pushed to take to the streets and do what we do best: educate the public and authorities on the issue. For the teachers fortunate to still have a job and reporting back to their classes later this week, we found it important to plan this picket to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters that are not so lucky," explains Carlo Parapara, president of the Pilipino Educators Network of PG county.
SAVE OUR CHILDREN RALLY
Priority: Time Sensitive
Date: Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Time: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Lafayette Park in front of The White House
Contact Persons: Aileen Montillano
Pilipino Educators Network
Maria Urbano – 301-646-7297, email@example.com
On Tuesday, August, 9, 2011, students, parents and teachers from Prince George’s county will protest at The White House the threatened loss of 1,044 teachers to deportation because the Department of Labor has decreed their demise in a unilateral action.
As the beginning of the school year approaches, the thousands of students who will lose teachers to deportation, their parents and the teachers want President Obama to know the travesty his Department of Labor has inflicted upon the students and teachers of PG County.
On July 7, 2011, the Department of Labor and the Prince George’s County School Board entered into an agreement, without consulting the union, the teachers, the students or the parents, in which the Board agreed to pay the international teachers, largely Filipino, over $4 million in back wages, to be debarred from the H-1B program for two years and to be debarred from processing promised green cards and to pay a $100,000.00 fine.
The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division issued a determination in April 2011 finding that Prince George’s County School board was required to pay the attorney fees and governmental filing fees in connection with their H visas and their failure to do so was a violation of the labor rules, which resulted in a back pay order for $4.2 million and debarment from the H-1B program for two years. The approximately 987 teachers are covered by a collective bargaining unit which was not consulted about this issue nor were the teachers.
Between 2004 and January 2011, Prince George’s County recruited almost 1,044 teachers, largely from the Philippines to teach subjects such as Math, Science, Special Education and English as a Second Language. The teachers were all promised H-1B visas and green cards.
The system is now imploding because, under the Settlement Agreement, the School Board agreed to fire all teachers on the day their H-1B visa status expires, which include about 240 teachers between now and the end of November. Thus, on the expiration date, the students will be left without competent teachers.
All teachers could have been saved if only the School Board had extended their H-1B status for three years before the DOL determination. The School Board promised to extend the visas but failed to do so.
Teachers are losing their jobs, homes, cars and left hanging because of an Agreement of which they were not a part. They are being treated as pariahs for helping the disadvantaged students of Prince George’s County comply with No Child Left Behind.
Most recruited teachers have tenure in PG County and have many years of experience.
The School Board has been silent in attempting to place the teachers on other types of visas such as J-1 visas or U visas as victims of crime.
This agreement is in the interests of no one. The union has hired an attorney to represent four teachers in seeking to enjoin the Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge from accepting the Settlement Agreement. In their pleadings they have taken the position that Prince George’s County was not a willful violator and should not be debarred from the H visa program.
When a position is unionized, how can the Department of Labor ignore their position and interest? If the union does not claim the international teacher wages violated the CBA, why would the Department of Labor undermine the education of thousands of students?
We seek rescission of the flawed agreement between the Department of Labor and the Prince George’s County School Board and return to the status quo, including extending the H-1B visas of all teachers who still have jobs. Any future agreements should consider the input of the teachers union, the teachers, the students and their parents.
The negative fallout from the human detritus includes making the international teachers in PG County radioactive in seeking employment with other school districts as they are afraid to sponsor H-1B visas.
There are no winners in the current situation.
PRESS RELEASE: MHC ASKS MARYLAND GOVERNOR TO PROBE PG COUNTY OFFICIALS
MHC Expresses Solidarity with Maryland Teachers;
Asks Maryland Governor to Probe Culpability of PG County School Officials in the Recruitment and Hiring Process
August 8, 2011
By Marivir Montebon
Migrant Heritage Chronicle
The Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) expressed full solidarity with the Filipino teachers of the Prince George’s County in Maryland in the continued struggle for their tenure as international teachers.
In a recent press release, the Washington, DC-based service organization for immigrants asked Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and the Prince George’s County State Attorney to investigate the possible involvement of PGC and PGCPS officials in the recruitment and hiring of teachers on whether or not irregularities, anomalous arrangements and transactions and corrupt practices were committed by these officials during the recruitment and hiring process.
The MHC has likewise asked the Philippine government to investigate the Philippine recruitment agencies which were responsible in sending more than 1000 teachers to various parts of the US, including Maryland.
MHC co-executive directors Jesse Gatchalian and Grace Valera-Jaramillo will personally deliver the petition letter to the office of Gov. O’Malley.
As the case is being investigated, the MHC has also asked the Department of Homeland Security to allow the issuance of U visas, deferred action status, and continued presence status of the affected teachers while the case is being investigated.
“We ask the Department of Education to stand on behalf of the teachers and the thousands of students who will be affected by the vacuum created with loss of these teachers and the County’s inability to hire new teachers due to the debarment penalty meted on it.
We sincerely ask the Labor and Education departments to continue hiring these teachers, based on merits. Excellent and dedicated teachers are the real engines of any school. They must be given their due so that they continue to mold the youth into good citizens and leaders of the country.
What shall become of America if it fails to mete justice to its own workers and deprives the youth of highly skilled and dedicated teachers?” the MHC press statement said.
MHC co-executive director Arnedo Valera said he hopes that the Department of Education and the Department of Labor see the whole picture of this issue. “Aside from the gross injustice it has created on the teachers and their families which is tantamount to genocide, it is grossly unfair to the students of the PG County to be deprived of quality and dedicated teachers as most of these affected teachers are,” he said.
The arrival of Filipino teachers was welcomed by different schools not only in Maryland, but also nationwide. Indeed, the US is a nation of immigrants and is built on the contributions of different peoples from all over the world.
But all too soon, the future went bleak for them because of the recent DOL decision.
The Wage and Hour Division of the DOL found the PGCPS in willful violation of the laws governing the H1B foreign worker program. By having the recruited teachers pay for various fees that are supposed to be shouldered by the employer, the ruling asserted that this is tantamount to PGCPS not paying the proper wages.
In the initial settlement for the violations, PGCPS and the DOL agreed on the following remedies: (1) PGCPS to pay $4million in back wages to the teachers; (2) PGCPS to pay $1.7 million civil penalty; and (3) PGCPS is debarred for two years from participating in the H1B program.
Subsequently, the PGCPS and the DOL entered into a final settlement where PGCPGS is found to be a willful violator of H-lB regulations; debarred for two years and to pay a fine of $100,000.
This DOL ruling, at a glance, is a victory to the H1B teachers who were victimized by illegal fees, and victory to the American workers as well, as the penalty seeks to prevent employers from paying lower wages to foreign counterparts.
The full burden of the ruling’s remedies, however, falls on the victims themselves. With PGCPS debarred from the H1B program, it will not be able to renew the legal stay of its existing teachers whose H1B visas are set to expire within the next two years.
The school district is also prohibited from filing permanent visa sponsorships for these teachers who, under the intent of H1B program, deserve to become permanent residents of the US. This will result to a series of terminations that by the end of July 2011 alone more than 200 teachers are affected.
The MHC reiterated its stand for the Governor of Maryland and the County State Attorney to do its share in finding the culpability of PG County officials in wreaking havoc to the teachers and compromising the future of the students.#
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