Filipino Workers Kept As Slaves In Louisiana, Lawsuit Charges

D&R Resources Manila slavesLooking at its website, it's not very clear what D&R Resources Inc. does. The company calls itself "a global technical and professional manpower specialist." Its job is to bring Filipinos to the United States to work temporarily under an E-2 visa. If you call its number, you'll find yourself on the phone with Manila.

The company's tagline is: "Ensuring optimum service while providing the opportunity of a lifetime."

But at least 17 of those recruited Filipino workers did not consider their experience in the U.S. an opportunity of a lifetime. They're suing D&R, as well as several of its partner businesses, for trafficking, slavery and forced labor.

'Like Manna'

A while back, the plaintiffs were living in the Philippines and heard that local agencies were looking for welders and fitters to work overseas. They were told that, if hired, they would receive free transportation to the U.S., housing, food and an hourly compensation of $16.25, according to the lawsuit filed Monday. Payment was also said to include $24.37 for overtime.

"In the Philippines, if you're making $6 a week you're making a lot," the plaintiffs' lawyer Ronald Wilson, told AOL Jobs. "If someone flashes a wage like that in front of you, you go."

The recruiters also promised them Green Cards. "This is like manna for them," says Wilson.

The E-2 visa is for non-citizens who own at least 50 percent of a business in the U.S., as well as any of its employees who have "special qualifications" that are "essential" to the firm and can't be provided by American workers.

Danilo Dayao and Randolph Malagapo are Filipino citizens, and they own 50 percent of D&R. Their recruited workers don't work for D&R, however. D&R sends those workers elsewhere, in this case to Grand Isle Shipyard, a Louisiana oilfield contractor.

The 17 Filipino workers got off the plane and were sent to Galliano, La., a small town where Grand Isle Shipyard has its main facilities. They were housed in a bunkhouse, four to a room, according to the lawsuit, and $3,200 was deducted monthly from each of their paychecks.

Later they were moved to another Grand Isle Shipyard facility in Lafitte, La. There the Filipino workers were allegedly housed six to a 10-by-10-foot room. They slept on racks, and for this were charged between $2,000 and $3,000 a month. "Inexplicably, the more they earned, the more they were charged for the rack," claims the lawsuit.

Seen As A Prevalent Problem

The plaintiffs allegedly often worked 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They had curfews, and their doors were locked a night. American workers would even supervise them on trips to the local Walmart. Their Social Security cards were supposedly kept by Dayao and Malagapo in order to "exert full and complete control over Plaintiffs' existence during their tenure in the United States."

They were paid as little as $5.50 an hour, the lawsuit claims.

When the workers asked why their pay was so much lower than promised, their employers threatened to deport them and get the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to blacklist their names, barring them from any future overseas employment, according to the lawsuit.

They were allegedly prohibited from socializing with the American workers, who were given preferential treatment. If an American worker wanted the bottom bunk, the Filipino worker would have to give it to him.

After a few years, all of the workers escaped. They sought help from the Catholic Charities of New Orleans, and with its assistance they received a Continued Presence status from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a temporary immigration status awarded to victims of human trafficking.

Now the 17 workers are suing. They're suing D&R, as well as Danila Dayao and Randolph Malagapo as individuals. They're suing Thunder Enterprises Inc., an American corporation that owns the other half of D&R. They're suing Grand Isle Shipyard, where they worked. They're suing Pacific Ocean Manning Incorporated and Industrial Personnel and Management Services, two recruiters of Filipino labor. They're suing V People, a Filipino corporation that works primarily in Texas, which also provided Filipino workers to Grand Isle Shipyard.

According to the lawsuit, "the Defendants conspired, agreed, planned and coordinated for the purpose of depriving Plaintiffs of equal protection of their rights... to be free from forced labor, involuntary servitude, and trafficking in persons."

"It wasn't easy putting it all together," Wilson says about the tangle of companies and agencies involved in the case. "But what we set forth is pretty prevalent," he speculates.

The plaintiffs are seeking back pay, as well as punitive damages to be determined at the jury trial. Grand Isle Shipyard refused to comment on the lawsuit and no one at D&R could be reached. But the company's operator in Manila told AOL Jobs that the suit was news to him.

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