Pipeline to the Platform Special


Posted on June 13, 2013 at 6:48 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 31 at 1:10 PM

Brendan McCarthy / Eyewitness News
Email: bmccarthy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @bmccarthyWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- Dozens of Filipino guest workers came to Louisiana on promises of a better life for their loved ones back home. But years later, they say they were lured here by lies and treated like slaves.

They point to 18-hour workdays, sometimes up to 400 hours a month for measly pay. Some say they slept in a retro-fitted storage container, their passports held by their employer.

Our lengthy Eyewitness Investigation uncovered a pipeline of human trafficking, with immigration paperwork allegedly based on lies, and workers holding numerous and fake social security numbers. We found a number of other possible violations, from immigration policies to labor and workplace standards.

The Filipinos – welders, scaffolders, pipefitters – came to the United States as skilled workers, but learned quickly that they are at the bottom of the economic food chain. They say their work here included washing the CEO’s car, cutting his grass, picking up trash and scraping paint at his restaurant, all in violation of their visas. Meanwhile, their tax refunds were withheld by their employers.

Their entry into this country is overseen by two separate countries and multiple federal agencies. Still, they slipped through the cracks. And their presence went mostly unnoticed until November, when some of them died in a platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our seven-month investigation went all the way to the Philippines for this story, exposing a global issue that ends right here in our backyard.

And now, sources say, a federal grand jury has begun looking into the human trafficking and fraud allegations.