The Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants (PAWIS) condemns in the strongest possible terms the ongoing anti-Asian violence and crimes sweeping across the United States.
Most of our members are essential workers who continue going to work despite and inspite, of COVID 19. They risk their lives everyday so that they can continue to send money back home to their families in the Philippines. However, the anti-Asian sentiment that has long plagued this nation and has escalated to violence and attacks against Asians in these past weeks sowed added fears and worries to our community that has been through so much already in the past year. Filipinos and our Asian brothers and sisters are subjected to horrific physical attacks, racial slurs and other forms of harassment.
Violence is not new to Filipino immigrants. Structural violence caused many Filipinos to migrate and/or work abroad. Currently, our home country is under the grip of a fascist dictator drunk on killing suspected drug peddlers and human rights defenders. It is disheartening that in our adopted country we continue to experience violence — violence , bias and prejudice rooted in systematic racism that continues to operate in this nation and in all its institutions.
We urge our community to stand strong and in solidarity with our Asian sisters and brothers. We denounce the type of scapegoating that we Asians and Asian Americans have been subjected to in the wake of the pandemic. We deserve to live, breathe and work in this country. We must continue to advocate and fight for our rights and welfare because every person in this world deserves to live their lives with safety, dignity and respect.
By Lorena Gonzalez and Ruth Silver Taube
Lurking in the shadows in any crisis are the unscrupulous characters looking to take advantage of those struggling the most. We’ve been warned of the scammers pretending to be contact tracers to commit identity theft. We saw giant corporations ripping off taxpayer-funded relief intended to prevent small businesses from going bankrupt.
Likewise, unscrupulous companies that cheated their workers out of wages before the pandemic are exploiting the weakness in our worker protections by shutting down and reopening under a new name in order to avoid paying the wages they owe.
Since March, it’s been low-wage workers, workers of color, and immigrant workers who’ve borne the brunt of layoffs; they’re also the workers most likely to be victimized by wage theft as companies shut down without paying them back wages they’re owed.
These companies hope that their theft will go unnoticed among the thousands of legitimate, Covid-related business closures and new business filings as California recovers. Ensuring exploited workers are not left further behind as California recovers is why it’s so important that Gov. Gavin Newsom sign AB 3075.
Workers like Tess are counting on us.
She worked long hours in a care home for the elderly and people with disabilities. When Tess and her co-workers insisted they be paid overtime, the owner turned management of the home over to an administrator who sought to avoid overtime by putting a three hour gap in the middle of an eight-hour shift.
While responsibility for the home changed on paper, day-to-day management didn’t and neither did the needs to care for Tess’ patients. The same owner called the shots and forced Tess and her colleagues to work through their three-hour “breaks.”
Tess joined the Pillipino Association of Workers and Immigrants and is fighting to recover the wages she’s earned.
In industries with many low-road employers like care homes, employers commit
wage theft with impunity precisely because they know how rarely workers like Tess
are successful in collecting back wages- and that was before Covid-19.
Just 17 percent of workers who’ve gone through the difficult process to secure a court
judgment ordering their employers to pay back wages ever see even a dime of what they’re owed—precisely because companies can simply close up shop and open under a new name. California workers lose an estimated $2 billion from their paychecks to theft from their own employers each year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
AB 3075 begins to remedy this by requiring anyone who wishes to incorporate
to sign a statement indicating that they don’t have any outstanding wage judgments.
The vast majority of California companies are doing right by their workers during this pandemic. Many small business owners are even dipping into their own savings or retirement funds to make payroll, to buy safety equipment to keep workers safe, or to keep the doors open so workers can put in the hours they need to feed their families.
But businesses who closed up shop in the pandemic and sent workers home without their last paychecks should ensure those workers are made whole when they reopen. AB 3075 would make California’s recovery is fair to the companies that did the right thing—and the workers who’ve been paying the most difficult price in recent months.
Lorena Gonzalez represents the 80th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes parts of San Diego and the South Bay. Ruth Silver Taube is the workers’ rights supervising attorney at the Alexander Community Law Center, an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, and coordinator of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to email@example.com.
By Ethan Chua on August 29, 2020
On July 3 2020, despite waves of popular resistance and incisive legal critique, President Rodrigo Duterte passed an Anti-Terrorism law that would give the executive government sweeping powers to imprison and repress political activists under the guise of combating terrorism. These powers include the ability of the executive branch to authorize what amount to warrantless arrests, the arbitrary detention of those suspected of aiding or inciting terrorism for up to 24 days, and the complete supersession of judicial checks on presidential authority. Understandably, many Filipinos are concerned that the law’s passage will usher in a new era of repression, akin to martial law under the Marcos dictatorship. Yet unlike the Marcos dictatorship, Duterte’s right wing populism stems from decades of liberal democracy that failed to address the economic needs of the Filipino people.
The proponents of Philippine liberal democracy, from President Corazon “Cory” Aquino to her son Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, essentially promised the Filipino people that poverty and economic inequality could be quelled through anti-corruption measures and liberal political reform. However, liberal reforms only ended up entrenching the institutional power of political dynasties without meaningfully improving the lives of the most oppressed, providing the stage for Duterte’s rise to power on a populist, anti-elite platform. The Anti-Terrorism Bill, now codified into law, is the resurgence of right wing populism, sprouting from the carcass of the EDSA Revolution’s co-optation by the liberal elite.
In 1986, the People Power Revolution (also known as the EDSA revolution) led to the ousting of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the presidency of Corazon “Cory” Aquino. As the wife of assassinated senator and Marcos-opponent Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Cory’s rise was hailed worldwide as the triumph of democracy against Marcos’ dictatorial regime. She symbolized a newfound Filipino commitment to the ideals of liberal democracy, which were enshrined as principles in the 1987 Constitution. Yet despite Cory’s widespread support, she was never able to unify the various political forces who challenged or who stood against the Marcos regime. Instead, her presidency is best understood as a tug-of-war between a wide range of coalitions who sought to influence the new spokesperson of the Filipino people.
Roughly, these coalitions can be divided up into the radical (primarily national democratic) left, who wanted to extend the promise of liberal democracy into genuine agrarian reform and economic justice; the more centrist upper-middle classes, which consisted of Church officials, and business leaders who despite welcoming an end to Marcos-era repression, only paid lip service to the ideals of free elections and speech; and right-wing military groups such as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, whose aspirations for a strong repressive state in the mold of Marcos led them to launch a series of failed coups against the Aquinos. In the end, Cory’s own strong ties to landholding interests (her family’s landholdings included the over 6,000 hectare sugar plantation Hacienda Luisita), coupled with internal strife within the Philippine left, led her government on a path of socially conservative, economically neoliberal policy making coupled with a public commitment to liberal democratic norms.
The national democratic left, who broke decisively with Cory after she oversaw the killing of 21 peasants protesting for land reform on Mendiola Bridge in January 1987, remained the most vocal critics of her new liberal order. They rightfully saw that Cory’s commitment to democratic principles and constitutional freedoms meant nothing if those principles were not coupled with economic justice and genuine agrarian reform. Yet the left’s own political legitimacy had been weakened after they failed to participate in the broad coalition that helmed the People Power Revolution. As such, their critique of Cory went unheeded by the government. Despite reforming the Constitution to place greater checks on presidential power, she simultaneously continued the neoliberal economic agenda of Marcos’ regime.
Cory’s now infamous refusal to repudiate the national debt upon her rise to power, alongside her continued pursuit of foreign investment and loans from the IMF and the World Bank, caused the Philippines to be further incorporated into the neoliberal world system. The primary consequence of this rising debt was a state-sponsored surge in overseas Filipino workers, who today can be seen throughout the globe doing precarious labor as seafarers, nurses, and domestic workers. This turn to overseas employment for Filipinos was first encouraged by the Marcos government, which sought to service the national debt with the remittances workers sent home. Despite rejecting Marcos’ dictatorial regime, Cory essentially continued his policies of labor export. Under Cory, the Philippine state brokered contracts with foreign states to have Filipino workers fill labor demand; meanwhile, at home, her government began recasting overseas Filipino workers as national heroes, pushing more and more Filipinos to consider work abroad as a preferable alternative to a lack of domestic opportunities. Today, around one million Filipinos leave the country each year to work abroad.
Cory’s popular global and national appeal arose from her reputation as an icon of emergent democracy. Describing her presidential campaign against Marcos before the United States Congress in 1986, she presented herself as a self-conscious champion of a people who longed for the restoration of democratic norms: “Wherever I went in the campaign, slum area or impoverished village, they came to me with one cry, democracy. Not food, although they clearly needed it but democracy. Not work, although they surely wanted it but democracy.” However, despite her lip service to democratic practice, Cory continued the brutal military repression of activists who challenged the fragile consensus between center and right that she had brokered, with extrajudicial killings rising under her regime.
Filipinos who were born in the early to late ‘90s live in a post-Cory era where the subsequent presidents combined economic liberalization, a rhetorical commitment to anti-corruption measures and political reform, and the military repression of dissent under the broad banner of “liberal democracy.” Under Cory’s successor Fidel Ramos, the police and military apparatus were given more powers, forcing communist and Muslim separatist revolutionary movements in the southern Philippines to cede ground. Meanwhile, Ramos’ socio-economic Philippines 2000 program, which was designed to hasten industry development, only further increased the hold of foreign capital on the Filipino people. Under Ramos, state and paramilitary forces conducted military operations against local communities to clear the way for foreign mining and other projects of resource extraction.
By the time the Philippines’ subsequent presidents came into power, the cracks of decades of neoliberal policies began to show. Corruption grew rampant. Foreign capital remained among a clique of landlords, business tycoons, local politician-warlords, who allied with whichever regime was in power. Elections and protests remained regular, but felt more like empty gestures towards an unrealized aspiration for democracy than genuine power to the people. These democratic practices continued to be marred by political violence; in a particularly egregious case in 2009, 57 people were murdered by the militia of Maguindanao mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. for their support of an opposition candidate. During this time, the government also disappeared many activists who went too far in their demands for economic justice. Among the middle and upper classes, political disaffection replaced the democratic enthusiasm of the EDSA revolution.
President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s presidency was, in retrospect, the dying breath of a liberal democratic consensus that for the preceding decades had tried to keep the masses pliant. Noynoy became a popular candidate after the death of his mother Cory Aquino because he promised to continue her legacy of democratic reform and ran on a presidential slogan that promised to end poverty by ending corruption. However, Noynoy only oversaw increasing economic inequality. While bankers, real estate developers, and business owners benefited from lower interest rates and a rising GDP, the share of agricultural and manufacturing sectors in the economy stagnated or shrunk. Meanwhile, his ostensible commitment to combating dynastic corruption was belied by his own membership in one of the most prominent political families in the Philippines. Increasingly, it became clear to the Filipino people that Aquino’s version of liberal democracy and economic growth ultimately benefited the elite–from enterprising business owners to entrenched political dynasties.
This environment of political disillusionment set the stage of Rodrigo Duterte’s rise to power as a presidential candidate who rhetorically positioned himself as an outsider—a foul-mouthed, truth-telling strongman from southern Mindanao who would not put up with the pretensions of an imperial elite that ranged from Manila to Washington. His strong stance against criminals and drug dealers provided a popular scapegoat for the socioeconomic ills of the country, deftly situating the blame for poverty not on a lack of economic justice or agrarian reform, but rather on the poor choices of social malcontents. His campaign painted an image of a nation on the brink of disaster, assailed by drug lords and armed communist insurgents, which required a leader who could substitute democratic practice with the violent exercise of political will. Ultimately, Duterte’s election can be understood as the people’s verdict on the failure of the Aquinos to deliver on the promises of their cacique-led liberal democracy.
More than 30 years after the EDSA revolution, we stand in a new era of executive power and political repression. If we fail to recognize that Duterte’s popularity is a result of the past few decades’ inability to create economic justice for ordinary people, we risk making the same mistakes as our predecessors. Liberal democracy, as practiced by the landed elite and dynastic families of our nation, has never worked. Neither will Duterte’s military authoritarian regime, despite its promises of social change through the eradication of drug users and leftist dissenters. As we condemn Duterte’s dictatorial rule, let us also call for a democracy that challenges the limits of economic liberalism, one that is committed to overturning the economic status quo in favor of the masses.
In the face of terror, let us continue to dream. Makibaka, huwag matakot.
-Ruth Silver Taube and Ethan Chua
Wage theft occurs when employers don’t pay workers commensurately for the hours they’ve worked, don’t pay minimum wage, or deny workers overtime pay. In California, employers use wage theft tactics to steal an estimated $2 billion from workers each year, yet only 17% of workers who’ve received court judgments in their favor secure any repayment from employers who have underpaid them. A primary reason for this low figure is that businesses can avoid wage theft judgments by closing down and reopening under a new name, leaving business owners with the capital they’ve stolen while workers themselves are left in the dust. The spate of lay-offs occurring due to COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem, with many laid off workers still owed back pay by their employers. In addition, workers who are most vulnerable to exploitation such as low-wage workers, workers of color, and immigrant and undocumented workers are those who suffer most from unpaid wage theft claims.
PAWIS, as a member of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition, has been fighting hard for the passage of AB 3075, a bill which would close the loophole of employers shirking wage theft judgments by reopening their businesses under new names or transferring them to family members, friends, or managers. AB 3075 would extend liability for unpaid wage theft judgments to an individual or business entity that 1) uses substantially the same facilities or substantially the same workforce to offer substantially the same services as the predecessor employer; 2) has the same owners or managers; 3) employs as a managing agent any person who directly controlled the wages, hours, or working conditions of the workforce of the predecessor employer; or 4) is a family member of an owner, partner, manager, or director of the predecessor employer.
PAWIS has played a significant role in advocating for AB 3075. PAWIS member Tess Brillante participated in over 30 lobby visits and eloquently described how her former employer, who committed wage theft, transferred ownership of his company to a care home administrator in order to evade liability. Her former employer required workers to take a three hour “break” while they continued caring for patients without compensation. During these lobby visits, Tess’s testimony clearly moved legislators, one of whom even interrupted her to express his displeasure with her employer. Tess also spoke passionately about the urgency of the bill on behalf of all care home workers, who are risking their lives during COVID to receive the pay they are owed. During the Assembly Banking Committee and Senate Labor and Employment Committee hearings, PAWIS members Tess Brillante, Lilybeth Torogi, and Felwina Mondina expressed their support for the bill. By the time the bill was heard in the Banking Committee, there was no opposition, and the bill passed with 4 members in favor and 1 member abstaining. Several senators commented that it was a “great bill.” The bill is headed for the Senate floor, then back to the Assembly for a vote on the amended bill, and finally to the Governor for signature. When the Governor signs it into law, it will be a powerful victory for all workers who are victims of wage theft.
Ruth Silver Taube
Supervising Attorney of the Workers' Rights Clinic at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center at Santa Clara University School of Law and the Legal Advice Line of the OLSE Fair Workplace Collaborative; Special Counsel to Legal Aid at Work; and an Adjunct Professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. She collaborates with the PAWIS to conduct legal clinics and training. She is Legal Services Chair of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, a member of the South Bay Coalition’s Executive Board, a delegate to the Santa Clara County’s Human Trafficking Commission, Coordinator of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition, and a founding member of the Bay Area Equal Pay Collaborative.
Ethan Chua (He/They)
Undergraduate at Stanford studying anthropology and creative writing, and a member of the Malaya Movement.
On August 16, PAWIS successfully hosted the online webinar, “Conversations on the Issues and Concerns of Caregivers”. The webinar started with the usual workers rights update in the midst of the pandemic. The webinar then proceeded to talk about the struggles faced by caregivers here in the United States by talking about existing lack of regulations in the caregiving industry, how the current pandemic is worsening the conditions of caregivers, and how the feudal culture from the Philippines contributes to the exploitation of caregivers.