Filipino workers say US bakery paid only $2 an hour
MANILA, Philippines – Two dollars per hour (about P88) sounds like the wages they left behind in the Philippines. But 11 current and former employees of the L'Amande French Bakery in the cities of Beverly Hills and Torrance in California, USA, accuse their employers of paying them this amount, which is way below the current minimum wage in California of $9 an hour (or about P396).
A report in the Los Angeles Times said the first batch of these workers arrived in 2012 under a visa program for foreign investors and their employees.
Aside from working in the bakery, the workers said they were expected to clean the homes of the bakery owners, Ana Moitinho de Almeida – who is from the Philippines – and her husband, Goncalo.
The workers accused the Almeidas of making them work 17-hour days and said that when they were done, they were made to sleep in the laundry room.
The 11 Filipino workers came to the US on E-2 visas, which allows them to work for a foreign national who has invested a certain amount of money in a business based in the US.
They are suing the Almeidas for wage theft and human trafficking.
"Workers are trapped," Nicole Gon Ochi, an attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which filed the lawsuit with law firm Latham & Watkins on behalf of the workers told LA Times. "They're stuck between a rock and a hard place because their status is tied to their employers.
Romar Cunana, one of the plaintiffs and bakery employee told reporters, "I left my family to work in the US because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a better life for my family."
He was one of 3 employees who spoke out against the bakery's owners at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice press conference on March 19. Cunana added, "Ana [Almeida] made me sign a contract stating that I owed her over $11,000, the amount to cover the cost of travel my travel to the US. The $11,000 is three times what I earn in one year in the Philippines."
Asked to lie
Another employee, Louis Luis, said at the same press conference that he was treated poorly and made to work as a "domestic servant" for 6 days a week. "When the bakery opened, I worked for 7 days a week," he added. Since they were made to work in conditions that violated state and federal labor laws, Luis said their employers asked them to lie about how many hours they worked.
"When the division of Labor Standards and Enforcements (DLSE) came to visit, Analiza told us to lie to the government. She terminated me a few weeks before the DLSE hearing," he said.
A report in US blog ThinkProgress.org said that even if the workers win their case "it's unclear whether they would ever see a cent" after. A University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study found that less than 50% of the $390 million withheld wages reported between 2008 and 2011 has been recovered.
Several media outlets report that the Almeidas have not responded to requests for comment. – Rappler.com