Pi­noys fall vic­tim to traf­fick­ing

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS -

OK­LA­HOMA CITY— Own­ers of an Ok­la­homa ho­tel and other busi­nesses en­gaged in a hu­man traf­fick­ing scheme that lured work­ers from the Philippines promis­ing good wages but in­stead paid them less than the min­i­mum wage, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit.

Three Filipino work­ers brought to Clin­ton, Ok­la­homa, about 128 kilo­me­ters west of Ok­la­homa City, paid thou­sands of dol­lars in re­cruit­ing fees to cover visa-re­lated costs that should be in­curred by spon­sor­ing US em­ploy­ers, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint filed last week in fed­eral court.

The law­suit, filed by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU) and other groups, said the im­mi­grants were threat­ened with phys­i­cal harm when they com­plained that their com­pen­sa­tion didn’t meet con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions. It also sought class-ac­tion sta­tus.

Wal­ter and Car­olyn Schu­macher, who are mar­ried and own a Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press, a steak­house and a wa­ter­park in Clin­ton, de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, their at­tor­ney said. “Mr. and Mrs. Schu­macher are heart­sick about th­ese al­le­ga­tions,” Kevin Donel­son said.

He said he be­lieved the al­le­ga­tions would be proven false once the case was re­solved.

A Fed­eral Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion spokesper­son and an Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment spokesper­son said they were not aware of the case. A US Depart­ment of La­bor spokesper­son said he was not aware of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case.

Donel­son said nei­ther he nor the Schu­mach­ers had been con­tacted by any fed­eral agency or pros­e­cu­tor about an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Non­profit law firm Equal Jus­tice Cen­ter and em­ployee rights group Le­gal Aid at Work joined the ACLU of Ok­la­homa in fil­ing the law­suit. It sought an un­spec­i­fied amount in puni­tive and com­pen­satory dam­ages for the work­ers be­cause they were al­legedly paid less than their con­tract al­lowed and less than the fed­eral min­i­mum wage.

The law­suit con­tended that from 2008-14, the Schu­mach­ers’ com­pa­nies ap­plied to the fed­eral Depart­ment of La­bor to em­ploy more than 100 for­eign work­ers.

It al­leged that work­ers re­cruited for house­keep­ing jobs at the ho­tel were paid $4.25 per room cleaned. Servers at the steak­house made $2 per hour plus tips, and house­keep­ers and servers at the wa­ter­park made $1 to $2 per hour less than promised. Low pay and short work­weeks meant the im­mi­grants couldn’t re­pay debts they in­curred just to get to the US, the law­suit said.

One plain­tiff worked at the ho­tel, one at both the ho­tel and the steak­house, and one at the wa­ter­park, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

The law­suit said Wal­ter Schu­macher in­tim­i­dated em­ploy­ees by say­ing he was car­ry­ing a gun when he picked them up from the air­port. The fil­ing also claimed that although the Schu­mach­ers promised they would pay for round-trip air­fare to and from the Philippines, Wal­ter Schu­macher said the only way he would send any­one back was “in a box.”

Donel­son said the Schu­mach­ers de­nied “the sub­stance of the al­le­ga­tions and what took place.”

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