by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com
NEW YORK — Two Filipina domestic workers have filed lawsuits against a Bergen County couple for years of unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) New Jersey–Asian American Legal Project (NJ-AALP).
The case was filed in court last December and up to this day, the Filipina workers and their lawyers are still waiting for response from the defendants, who have until next month to do so.
“This situation involves egregious violations of basic wage and hour laws,” said Ivy Suriyopas, AALDEF Staff Attorney.
The two workers, both immigrants from the Philippines, had worked in the home of their Bergen County employers for six years. They worked seven days a week, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their employers’ home and family. Their workday started as early as 6 am and frequently went well past midnight.
Despite the fact that each worker often labored up to 120 hours a week, their employers paid them each merely $400 a week without any overtime pay. “The workers dedicated long days and nights for their employers. And in return, their employers paid them what amounts to pocket change,” Suriyopas added.
After leaving their jobs in August 2007, the workers contacted AALDEF NJ-AALP this fall after reading about the organization in a community newspaper. One of the workers, Ms. Castro, who did not wish her real name to be disclosed, said, “I worked so hard to take care of their family. I just want what I am owed according to the law. I want justice.”
“When they read about a similar case in the papers, that was when they decided to assert their rights,” Suriyopas told the Asian Journal.
AALDEF, with pro bono counsel Troutman Sanders LLP, filed the federal complaint on behalf of these workers in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Suriyopas added that domestic workers who might find themselves in a similar situation must first try and discuss the issue with their employers.
“Sometimes, even the employers do not know the law. At least, when domestic workers discuss with their employers, there is a possible opportunity to reach an amenable settlement and everyone is aware of what is at stake,” Suriyopas advised.
If the employer still won’t recognize the issue, then it is time to elevate it to those who know, like lawyers and members of service organizations who specialize in workers’ rights.
“While the workers were unsure about their rights under minimum wage and overtime laws, their gut feeling was that their employers were wrong. Federal and state labor laws exist to protect workers from this type of abuse, and we are glad to assist the workers and other immigrant workers like them in fighting for their rightful wages,”AALDEF Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexander Saingchin said.
(AALDEF NJ-AALP opened its office in Newark, NJ last July and since 2005 has conducted free legal clinics in northern and central New Jersey to assist Asian immigrants and Asian Americans with employment and immigration law questions.
NJ-AALP, an initiative of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), is dedicated to addressing the unmet legal needs of Asian Americans in New Jersey. Individuals seeking assistance may contact the AALDEF NJ-AALP helpline at (888) 406-1555.)