Maryland schools ordered to pay Filipino teachers | Global News
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Maryland schools ordered to pay Filipino teachers

/ 10:49 PM April 09, 2011

The US Department of Labor has ruled that Maryland’s Prince George’s County school system should have paid for all the expenses of 1,044 teachers recruited from foreign countries, including more than 800 from the Philippines, and told the school to pay $5.9 million in back wages and penalties.

The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division directed the school district to pay $4.2 million in back wages and another $1.7 million in penalties.

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The Filipino teachers were recruited as early as 2004 to last year, arranging special visas called H1-B which allows American employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. Most of these foreign workers almost always end up being granted permanent residency or green cards due to their qualifications and their contributions to society.

“All employers, including school systems, are required to follow the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, acting administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.

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“That includes the legal duty to pay every teacher hired the full wages he or she is owed,” Leppink added.

The DOL said it is assessing the school system $1,740,000 in civil money penalties and may be disallowed from filing new petitions, requests for extensions or requests for permanent residency for foreign workers under any employment-based visa program.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of which the foreign educators were members condemned the Prince George’s school district for “illegally and unfairly exploiting workers who came from other countries to teach in American schools.”

“It is especially troubling that this exploitation occurred just a short drive from the nation’s capital,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

Weingarten observed that this is not the first example of this type of abuse, adding that a 2009 AFT report called attention to abuses in international teacher recruitment, and filed state and federal complaints last year on behalf of Filipino teachers working in Louisiana.

He added that the federation has been actively pushing for legislation to regulate the recruitment industry in an effort to help develop a code of ethics for the international recruitment of teachers.

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“Our goal is to create a systemic fix to keep such abuses from happening again. If proactive regulations had been in place to stop the bad actors, Prince George’s County Public Schools would not be spending millions in back pay now,” Weingarten stressed.

The Filipino teachers, who were considered the cream of the crop of the school system where they came from, welcomed the labor department ruling and expressed hope “for an equitable solution to the problem.”

“We are grateful to DOL for conducting this investigation, but most important is that our teachers’ right to have their visas renewed and their permanent resident applications processed continuously should not be jeopardized,” said Millet Panga, secretary of the Philippine Educators Network.

Panga said it’s not so much about the money, but their desire to arrive at something that would be “beneficial” to all parties.

“We recognize that our school system is facing big budget problems right now, and we really hope that we can arrive at a decision beneficial to all,” she said in an interview.

“After all, we are all part of the school system and we sincerely care for our students [and want them] to receive better services,” she added. FilAm Star

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