filipino nurses face endangerment charges

A group of 10 nurses from the Philippines are under indictment in New York on charges of endangering the welfare of five chronically ill children and one terminally ill man. They are accused of walking off their jobs at the Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Smithtown in April 2006 without providing sufficient notice for the nursing home to replace them on coming shifts: Filipino Nurses, Healers in Trouble.

Okay, that sucks. But that's not the whole story. The nurses were brought to the United States in 2005 after being recruited by an agency closely associated with SenosaCare, a large chain of nursing homes in New York. This, of course, is not uncommon, as there are currently thousands of trained nurses working in the United States from the Philippines. These nurses walked off the job over shabby working conditions and several broken promises made by the recruiters and employers:
The nurses say that numerous promises made by the recruiters were broken. They signed individual employment contracts with particular nursing homes, but were sent to other facilities. They had been promised they could start working as registered nurses immediately, but found when they arrived that permit applications had not been processed. Some agreed to work as clerks in the interim, and were paid between $12 and $14 an hour, far less than the hourly wage for registered nurses. When they began working as nurses, their paid workweek was unilaterally reduced from 37.5 to 35 hours, and some received $24 an hour, not the $34 hourly rate they had been told to expect. Some nurses were not paid night shift differentials or holiday pay.

Complaints about these and other matters were ignored by the nursing homes. As one of the nurses explained, "We were treated like dirt." When the nurses complained to the Philippine Consulate General, they were referred to a lawyer, Felix Vinluan, who said that he would file discrimination charges against the nursing homes, and also that they would be within their rights to resign their positions. Twenty-six nurses and one physical therapist did so on April 6 and 7, 2006. These workers have been dubbed the "Sentosa 27" by their fellow workers and supporters.
Is this fair? Whether from the Philippines or home-grown, no nurse should be treated like a second-class laborer. The district attorney's office conceded that the patients suffered no harm, and acknowledged that it couldn't recall a similar prosecution against nurses in the state. But it said the nurses' crime was serious: four of the children they left behind were on ventilators that demand round-the-clock monitoring. If found guilty, the 10 defendants could each be sentenced to a year in jail and lose their nursing licenses. Their trial was scheduled to start Monday, but it appears that it will be put off until March.

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