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Workers File Formal Complaint Against US Navy, Say 'Discrimination' Reason for Their Dismissal

Phillipine Village Voice, News Feature, Romeo P. Marquez Posted: Oct 11, 2006

SAN DIEGO -- Two Filipino workers formally filed a complaint against the US Navy alleging that they were dismissed from their jobs three months ago because of their national origin as Filipino immigrants.

Meanwhile, the mainstream Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (ICWJ) representing clergy, churches, synagogues, faith and justice organizations, has joined other groups in the outcry against the Navy's treatment of the Filipino workers.

Officials of the ICWJ met last week with representatives of the workers and after hearing them talk about their plight, "the people from various denominations were moved by their story," according to an official who was present at the meeting.

The two complainants -- Benedicto Barrios and Adventa Hoegemeier -- were part of the original group of 21 Filipino housekeepers who had been fired by the Navy for walking out of their jobs after repeatedly complaining about "unbearable" working conditions in the Navy-owned hotel facility in Point Loma.

Everyone in the group, except Barrios and Hoegemeier, were taken back as of August 10 even as they asked Navy authorities to lift their 30-day suspension, clear their records, and be paid salary for the period they were supposed to have gone on strike.

The housekeepers remained firm in their stand that they did not strike -- which was the reason for the suspension and withholding of pay -- but rather they were ordered to "go home" by their supervisor.

"The termination (of Barrios and Hoegemeier) itself was a continuation of a pattern of discrimination characterized by supervision's dismissive attitude towards and disregard of the legitimate concerns voiced by this group of housekeepers, predominantly Filipino Americans (and mostly female)," said a letter written on their behalf by Employee Rights Center director Peter Zschiesche.

The ERC and the One Vision One Voice Movement headed by Dr. Maria Lourdes Reyes are the two main community-based organizations assisting and advocating for the workers. OVOV has also brought in US Representatives Bob Filner and Susan Davis and California State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny and San Diego Councilman Ben Hueso.

"Though Barrios and Hoegemeier had no grievance rights being in a probationary status, they had the right to file a discrimination complaint," explained Zschiesche.

He said the letter-complaints had been forwarded to Ms. Diana Anderson of the Morale, Welfare & Recreation office of the Navy Region Southwest based in San Diego.

Zschiesche echoed all the housekeepers' complaints in his letter, among them, the substandard lunchroom, denial of the use of bathrooms and denial of access to coffee mess which was available to other workers of other nationalities.

"This denial treated this group of employees as a 'servant class' based on their Filipino immigrant status," Zschiesce said.

Navy authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Zschiesche explained that given the long history of hard work and patient endurance of this pattern of discrimination by this group, "their termination as 'strikers' who 'refused to return to work' is the highest form of discrimination."

"The fact that the command would interpret their actions as a strike or refusal to work is a further example of this pattern of discrimination because it ignores the cultural norms of these Filipino workers.

"Also, it perpetuates the disregard for their legitimate complaints and instead makes them the victims of the situation," Zschiesche said.

OVOV's Dr. Reyes met with the housekeepers on Saturday night and apprised them of the current situation. In turn, the housekeepers told her how they were faring in their work in the different jobsites that they've been reassigned to within the cities of San Diego and Coronado.

At the 32nd St. Naval Station, four of the housekeepers said they were singled out in not being allowed to work temporarily at their former work facility in Point Loma when the manager Fred Maguyon sought help.

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