While teaching in the south of the United States, Filipina Ingrid Cruz from the Philippines was part of the group that used national union support to fight back against an unethical international recruiter.

“Back home in the Philippines when I made the difficult decision to leave my family to go work in the United States, I did my homework. I researched the recruitment agencies that were registered with our Overseas Employment Agency and tried to make sure that I was working with a legitimate one. Even then,we paid high fees, but that was only the beginning of the problems for me and 350 of my fellow educators.

 

Immediately when we landed in the US, we were taken by a second recruitment agency to a place where we were forced to sign a second contract while they were holding our passports. I can still remember how it felt. This second contract stipulated another round of fees, and many other violations of our basic rights, but we had already invested so much and gone into such debt, it would have been impossible to turn around and fly back home at that point, so we signed again.

 

Once we got to our work site in Louisiana, the problems just kept getting worse. The recruiter had signed apartment leases on our behalf at above market value, and told us who we had to live with. She told us not to talk to people in Louisiana and not to join the union. She kept close tabs on us, and frequently called to harass and intimidate us if she didn't like our behavior. She threatened to have us sent home and used the visa renewal process to get more money from us.

 

I'll never forget when she sued me for allegedly starting a blog to raise concerns about our treatment. She had the court serve me papers in the classroom in front of my students.

 

It is only because of the American Federation of Teachers’ legal defense that I am still in the U.S. today, teaching robotics, with my family now by my side. This is why I believe that freedom of association is so critically important for migrants, because it was the union that helped us amplify our voices and seek justice."