by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Attorney General Bill McCollum of Florida sued Quality Staffing Services Corp (a Filipino-owned employment company) and the Boca Woods Country Club (a country club development) for allegedly re-assigning more than a dozen Filipino citizens who were promised work waiting and busing tables but sent, instead, to other jobs and turned into indentured servants.
“A group of Filipino workers arrived in Florida last fall, having paid thousands for the opportunity to work here. Instead, they were forced to live in a crowded home and had their passports confiscated,” the Attorney General’s Office said Feb 14.
Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado, who own Quality Staffing, confiscated the workers’ passports and return airline tickets, the lawsuit alleges. They also have demanded between $10,000 and $15,000 from any worker who wants to be released from their contract, according to the lawsuit. Manuel and Baldonado could not be reached for comment and a representative of Boca Woods declined to comment on the case.
Quality Staffing Services Corp hired at least 13 and possibly as many as 50 Filipino workers to work in food service jobs at the Boca Woods Country Club starting in fall 2007.
The complaint, filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, alleges that the Filipino employees understood they would be working 35 hours a week for $6.67 an hour, or an average of $1,400 a month, and would receive free transportation to Florida from the Philippines.
When they arrived in Florida in October 2007, 13 workers who paid their own way here were sent to work at various country clubs in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties and to live in a three-bedroom house with 25 to 30 people, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
“These people came to Florida believing they would have a chance at the American dream of earning a decent wage to provide for their families,” McCollum said in a statement. “Instead, they were trapped in low-wage positions and have had to depend upon handouts from friends to survive because of the apparently deceptive manner in which they were recruited.”
The workers paid fees to Quality Staffing, which had obtained a letter from Boca Woods Country Club stating the company was authorized to employ food service workers. But they never worked any food service jobs at Boca Woods, and they have earned “substantially less” than the guaranteed minimum wages, according to the lawsuit.
The Attorney General’s Office began to investigate the companies after receiving a complaint from the Philippine Consulate. The lawsuit accuses the companies of engaging in a “systematic pattern of conduct designed and intended to induce consumers to purchase their services via a series of false and fraudulent representations.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to issue a permanent injunction preventing all of the named defendants from engaging in business related to employment of temporary workers. The lawsuit requests damages as well as civil penalties against the defendants.