Maria Elena Bolocon came to the United States from Italy last September under a B1 Business visa, as the domestic employee of Aldo and Aurora Sermoneta, non-immigrant owners of the Sermoneta Gloves Shop in the Upper East Side in New York.
The Sermonetas reportedly promised Bolocan a weekly pay with an hourly rate of $15 and overtime pay rate after 40 hours of work. Plus, she would get the weekends off.
According to her contract, normal work hours would be Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with 2-hour lunch breaks.
But Bolocon claimed that in the first three days of her employment, her work day started at 4 a.m. and ended at around 11 p.m. Bolocon added that she even worked during lunch breaks.
“Andyan na yung dinuduro ako. Minsan dumarating siya sa bahay bigla na lang yuyugyugin yung balikat ko. Go with the flow na lang ako, ayokong lumaban,” said Bolocon.
A week later, she was told they would pay her after her second week of employment at a much-lower rate of $1,800 a month or $450 a week.
“Dahil wala na akong choice, $1,800, ok pumayag na ako. No choice. Kung hindi pauuwiin ako. Sabi ko nandito na ako, matiyaga naman ako, matiisin naman ako,” she said.
A month later, Bolocon finally got paid $1,256 for four weeks worth of work, her supposed net wage after income taxes were withheld citing a new “Federal law.”
Bolocon also claimed she was threatened with deportation or cancellation of her visa sponsorship for questioning her employers about her wages.
“Sabi niya irereport kita sa immigration. Sabi niya ite-text ko ang nanay mo na sumama ka sa lalaki. Ite-text ko ang nanay mo na involve ka sa drugs,” she said.
Last October, she escaped from her employers and filed a lawsuit against the Sermonetas with the help of a Filipino organization called Philippine forum.
Lawyer Felix Vinluan said, “It’s basically human trafficking, forced labor. There are also violations of the New York Labor law in terms of the non-payment of the minimum wages.”
The Sermonetas have been summoned and they have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.
Bolocon is seeking at least $75,000 worth of unpaid wages and unpaid overtime among other labor law violations.
Balitang America has reached out to the Sermonetas to get their side of the story. They have yet to respond.(R. Tagala, abs-cbn)