Albany hospital violates anti-trafficking law in hiring of Filipino RNs: union

At a Manhattan parade, Filipino nurses raise the NYSNA and Philippine flags with pride. Facebook photo

The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) filed a lawsuit on October 15 against Albany Medical Center (AMC) alleging violations of the human trafficking law in the hiring of Filipino nurses.

The federal complaint cites the Philippine Recruitment Program that AMC began in 2002. In the last 17 years, AMC has recruited almost 600 nurses from the Philippines. Each recruited nurse was required to sign a contract that contained clauses the nurses union contends are illegal, such as:

  • A penalty of up to $20,000 if the recruited nurse resigned from AMC before a three-year period ended.
  • The threat that if the nurse breached the contract, AMC would report the nurse to federal immigration authorities, which could result in deportation proceedings.

Dr. Dennis McKenna, the CEO of Albany Medical Center, has denounced the union’s charges as “outrageous allegations.”

“This is a groundless lawsuit being used to try to influence our negotiations for a nurses contract…It is a blatant mischaracterization of an excellent program,” he said in press reports, referring to the Philippine Recruitment Program.

The NYSNA complaint cites the case of a Filipino nurse who wanted to leave AMC in Albany, where she earns $28.50 per hour, so she could work in a nursing home in Nanuet in Rockland County where she would be paid $35 per hour. In another case, an experienced Filipina nurse wanted to leave AMC because she was only paid $27.80 per hour while American nurse colleague with an associate degree was paid $34 per hour on her first year.

In both cases, it says, the nurses feared breaking their contracts because they couldn’t pay back the recruitment cost of $20,000 or incur the risk of deportation.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) prohibits the use of threats of serious harm; being physical, non-physical, psychological or financial, to obtain labor or services of a person, according to the complaint. It also prohibits abuse of the legal process to obtain labor or services of a person.

The New York State Nurses Association is said to represent more than 42,000 members in New York State, calling itself New York’s largest union for registered nurses.Albany Medical Center, located in 43 New Scotland Avenue, Albany, New York, has recruited 582 nurses from 2002 through September 24, 2019 under the Philippine Recruitment Program.

Filipino RNs are valued for being well trained health care professionals and fluent in English. AMC acknowledges this, according to court papers. Stock photo

Albany Medical Center, located in 43 New Scotland Avenue, Albany, New York, has recruited 582 nurses from 2002 through September 24, 2019 under the Philippine Recruitment Program.

AMC provides recruited nurses with temporary housing “the cost of which is deducted from their paychecks,” states the complaint.   

“There are two locations in Albany, one on Dana Avenue and the other on Morris Street, both of which are narrow row houses split into separate dwellings on the first and second floors…Due to security issues concerning the locations of these houses, AMC provided the nurses with whistles that they could blow in the event that they were attacked.  Also due to the security concerns, AMC security personnel drove them to and from their shifts at AMC,” states the court papers.

Continues the document, “If the registered nurse resigns (or is fired for cause) during the first 10

months of employment, the ‘$20,000 in placement fees will convert to a loaned amount of

money and shall become due…’ If the nurse resigns during their 11th through 20th month of employment, $15,000 of the placement fees is converted to a loan and is immediately due. If the nurses resign during their 21st through 36th month of employment, $10,000 of the placement fees is converted to a loan and is immediately due. Only if the nurse works for 36 consecutive months does AMC discharge the debt (absent forgiveness for death or permanent disability).”

The NYSNA complaint also points out how AMC appears to foist the Filipino sense of ‘utang na loob’ (or “debt of gratitude”) on the nurses.

“The ‘debt of gratitude’ creates significant shame among debtors of Filipino culture who are not able to repay the creditor.  In certain parts of the Philippines, and particularly in rural parts (where most of the recruited nurses are from), owing a debt creates a significant responsibility.  Debtors often feel that failure to pay a debt will displease not only the creditor, but will also cause dishonor to the debtor and his or her family,” it says.

© The FilAm 2019



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