In This Modern Era, Equality and Justice Still Eludes Filipinos in Louisiana

In This Modern Era, Equality and Justice Still Eludes Filipinos in Louisiana

by F. J. “Ned” Valen, M.D.

January 22, 2013

Having lived and practiced medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana for over 40 years (since 1970), I’m familiar with the working conditions of oil platform workers in the state; they usually work comfortably in 2-weeks-on and 2-weeks-off shifts on those platforms (limited option: one-week-on/one-week-off). I saw some of them in my office with medical ailments and illnesses.

After hurricane Katrina in 2005, the U.S. opened up more leases and allowed more oil rigs to be built in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the need for more skilled workers such as welders and fabricators, overseas recruitment occurred to bring in more skilled laborers to supplement or replace local workers.

A recruitment company, DNR Offshore Crewing Services, co-owned by Randolf Malagapo with other Filipinos in Manila and other representatives here in Louisiana, brought in workers under a special visa, an E-2 or investors visa, which allows an overseas company to bring workers with special skills. Through DNR Offshore Crewing Services, the Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) Company, which is a US-based company in Louisiana, hired and supplied Filipino migrant workers to oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico such as Black Elk Energy.

As one of the leaders of Philippine-American United Council of Louisiana (PAUCLA) -the umbrella facilitator of Filipino organizations- and Association of Philippine Physicians in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast (APPLA-GC), I have witnessed the welcoming hospitality of our kababayans to newcomers to the region. Due to restrictions imposed on these workers, we (Cajun Filipinos) were not able to welcome them and have not been able to communicate with them freely.

Since 2005, the Filipino migrant workers have been complaining about the deplorable working and living conditions with the oil rig platforms. They complained about work abuses and violation of their human rights. One common complaint: “We were forced to work like slaves.” Although US citizen co-workers enjoy 2-weeks-on/2-weeks-off shifts and maintain their civil liberties such as having driver’s license and a car, enjoying their days off and free time, the Filipino workers are guarded 24-hours a day and surveillance cameras are set-up outside their bunkhouses so that they cannot leave without permission.

These Filipino workers are asked to work upwards of 400 hours/month with little or no overtime pay, made to work 12-14 hours a day, asked to pay illegal fees, refused visitations from their families and Filipino priests, and even discouraged from talking to American co-workers. Those who complained were threatened with deportation; one worker was let go on the spot with nowhere else to go.

The workers also complained about risky and dangerous conditions in the workplace. One Filipino welder temporarily lost his sight because he was forced to perform welding for an extended period of time, even though he complained that his work environment was risky at the time. One worker suffered severe burns inside a tank but was not provided with adequate medical care and was kept in a house to heal.

Alas! The tragic accident happened on November 16, 2012 on the Black Elk Energy oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast. The explosion claimed the lives of 3 Filipino workers and seriously burned 3 other Filipinos. With a brief national spotlight on the situation, the family members of the victims and other workers spoke about their ordeal, especially on issues of labor abuse and human rights violations. Over 100 workers are now involved in a class action lawsuit against Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), Black Elk Energy and DNR Offshore Crewing Services.

Soon after the accident, Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia, Jr. came to Louisiana and met with the officers of the recruiting companies. After being flown in on a private jet by GIS and meeting with the company, he said that he hopes that the Philippines will continue to provide more workers (under similar pathetic working conditions?). The aggrieved workers requested a dialogue with the Ambassador but he did not meet with them during that trip. When asked by the media about the impending lawsuit being filed, he claimed that he had no knowledge about the suit. Perhaps, he wasn’t the right person to look into the affairs of our Filipino workers; maybe a representative of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas may have been the better choice.

The Philippines boasts of having one of the robust economies in Asia. It is a fact that the economy is propped-up by dollar remittances of overseas Filipino workers from all over the world. The government even labeled them as modern-day heroes, but in this case and in others, they ended up as modern-day slaves.  Our people leave the country and make sacrifices every day to provide for their families.

The phenomenon of having Filipinos work overseas is a misguided pathway that exploits Filipinos in almost every country around the world and takes advantage of the desperation of our people because of lack of national development at home. Under these unfortunate circumstances, if the government wants to maintain a healthy economy, its agencies should be more proactive in protecting the welfare of our workers at home and abroad.

Pilipinas for Filipinos!  We demand equality and justice for Filipino GIS Workers and all Overseas Filipino Workers!

About the author: F. J. “Ned” Valen, M.D.

Having lived and practiced medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana for over 40 years, “Dr. Valen” is very familiar with the working conditions of oil platform workers in the state, seeing many in his office as cardiology and internal medicine patients.

He is the former President of: Philippine-American United Council of Louisiana (PAUCLA) and the Association of Philippine Physicians in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast (APPLA-GC).

Equally as notable, Mr. Valen is also the father of FCC Director Terry Valen. He maintains their original home in Gretna, Louisiana, not far from where many of the former GIS workers escaped to live outside of the confines of GIS facilities.

Category: Home Slider, Immigration, Worker Rights · Tags:

Comments are closed.