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For Immediate Release
February 24, 2013
Contact: Katrina Abarcar
Email: j4gisfilipinoworkers@gmail.com
Phone Number:   202-656-0739

In the 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Actions,

New Orleans Supports the Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers

New Orleans, Louisiana – Fifty years since civil rights actions began in Birmingham, Alabama, activists from all over the U.S. convened in New Orleans to support Filipino workers continuing to struggle against modern day slavery. The first day of the Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission organized by the Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers campaign resulted in the formation of a new Filipino workers organization and solidifying of support from key organizations and communities within the New Orleans area.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013 began with a sharing between members of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) and STAND with Dignity, organizations that protect and fight for the issues of migrant workers and low income workers and residents of New Orleans, and former workers from Grand Isle Shipyard. The same day, a new workers organization called FAST, Filipinos Against Slavery and Trafficking was formed.

Community organizations across New Orleans poured into Loyola University’s Danna Hall for a public forum later in the afternoon to express their solidarity, and denounce the pattern of exploitation of workers, across industries and across ethnicities.  Harold Butanas of Migrante Northern California related his own experience of being trafficked. Mr. Butanas arrived in Mobile, Alabama in 2007 with 68 other Filipinos to work as welders, pipefitters and scaffolders.  Mr. Butanas describes in Tagalog, “When we got here, we were already being cooked in our own oil.  We were required to pay $16,000 to sign up to work overseas.  After arriving in Alabama after a month—just after a month!—the company  told us that they no longer had jobs for us, just like that. In 2009, I couldn’t take it anymore, I moved to San Francisco.  I worked as a caregiver working almost 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, but was only being paid 8 hours a week. For 5 years, I worked, without papers, without approaching anyone for help.  Then, I met Terry (Valen), and through FCC (Filipino Community Center), that’s when I gained strength to fight against these injustices.  I’m proud to say that now, out of 68 Filipinos, I am the only one fighting.”  

Daniel Castellanos of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) also remarked on how this case “was not an anomaly.”  He shared that other workers of other ethnicities often take the same type of dirty and dangerous jobs, working for too many hours and paid too little.  “As a former guest worker, I feel that this is a very important step for the campaign. Because we know that they are now united, and they want to get justice, and as NGA, we are going to support them, in any way we can.  This is not only important for the Filipino workers, but for all workers.  It’s important to expose these kind of employers, because there are many GIS’s around the country.  This is part of the mission of the alliance, and so we will support them.”

Representatives from organizations such as the Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns (EFFCON), Migrante International, and International Migrants Alliance (IMA) read solidarity statements in support of the struggle of the Grand isle Shipyard Filipino workers.

Jackie Mariano, of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-USA), discussed the roots of the outmigration of Filipinos as stemming from the Labor Export Policy (LEP) of the Philippine government. She explained how the LEP is an unsustainable solution to the widespread poverty and joblessness in the Philippines.  Ms. Mariano also discussed how the corrupt landed elite has kept the Philippines an export-oriented and import-dependent economy, and how the U.S. exerts tremendous control and influence over the economy of the Philippines.

The evening ended with cultural presentations from delegates, and community organizations, such as the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO).  Ang Grupong Pendong, made up of former members of the popular progressive Filipino band Asin, headlined the intimate event. Workers were invited to join the group on stage to sing songs about the strength and courage of workers in their fight against exploitation.

For more information about the Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers campaign, go to j4gisfilipinoworkers.wordpress.com.

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