Jeanette Bernedino worked three months as a nurse caring for a handicapped child. At first her paychecks from the Philippino Placement Agency arrived sporadically, she said, then they started bouncing, and before long the money stopped coming altogether. She quit, and has spent some afternoons protesting outside the agency’s midtown office for the $14,000 she claims she is owed.
Bernedino is not alone in her problems with the agency. The city Bureau of Consumer Affairs, the state Department of Labor and the state attorney general’s office are all investigating the agency in response to charges of fraud and misrepresentation made by six of the placement agency’s former employees and contractors. They claim the agency owes them between $1,750 and $21,000 in unpaid wages and from credit card and social security fraud, promised employment opportunities, and stolen jewelry.
“They don’t keep a record, they will just issue a check whenever they want,” said Bernedino.
Gloria Estabillo, owner of the 14-year-old agency, firmly denies almost all of the charges (she does admit to owing Bernedino $5,600). She said pending investigations prohibited her from commenting further.
In the meantime, the Filipino Workers Center, an advocacy group, has organized weekly protests outside the agency headquarters at 104 East 40th Street to keep on the pressure. “We want to stop them from continuing to swindle people,” said organizer Amanda Vender, whose efforts have received the support of the New York City Central Labor Council and state Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.
For some observers, the case is nothing new. The business of exploiting immigrant workers is something “we definitely have to deal with regularly,” said Jose Peralta of the Labor Council. “When we reach out, we try to make them know nothing’s really gong to happen to them.”