NEW ORLEANS - About 15 migrant workers groups from across the country gathered Saturday night at Loyola University in a show of solidarity with local Filipino guestworkers.
The Filipino guestworkers are part of a federal class action lawsuit against a Galliano oilfield contractor, Grand Isle Shipyard, and several recruitment agencies.
The workers allege they were recruited from the Philippines under false pretenses and later worked here in “slave-like” conditions. They say they were cheated out of pay, among other claims.
"We are here today, though, because of the heroic acts of a particularly brave set of workers,” Saket Soni, of the National Guestworker Alliance, told the crowd.
More than 70 people came together in a conference room inside Loyola University’s student center. They heard speeches, swapped stories and bonded over Filipino food.
Earlier this week, migrant worker advocates started caravans from Chicago, New York, and elsewhere. They converged on New Orleasn this weekend as part of a “fact-finding mission” and show of support in this case.
The case of the Filipino guestworkers has been the focus of an Eyewitness Investigation – “Pipeline to the Platform” – that examined their claims.
We went all the way to the Philippines to investigate their claims and uncover a system that allowed for Filipinos to be funneled to bayou machine shops and offshore oil platforms.
Terry Valen, head of the San Francisco-based National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, said the case of the guestworkers needs attention.
"We want to put it out there,” he said. “This is not a secret anymore. This is happening in the backyard of Louisiana and New Orleans. It’s happening in the Gulf Coast and the American South in 2013 and it can't happen again."
Grand Isle Shipyard CEO Mark Pregeant has refused several requests for comment in recent months. His attorney has denied the workers’ allegations, calling them “totally false.”
In recent weeks, the U.S. Government issued human trafficking visas to more than a dozen of the Filipino workers. The visa labels them victims of human trafficking, and allows them to stay longer in the country and seek out work.
Meanwhile, the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration has opened its own investigation into the matter.
The class action lawsuit is pending in federal court.