Fri | Sep 29, 2023

Filipino workers: Oil company abandoned us in Hurricane Ida

Published:Friday | January 27, 2023 | 3:10 PM
In this image from video, Renato Decena (left) and Rosel Hernandez sit for a video interview with The Associated Press on September 13, 2022. The two are among 10 workers from the Philippines who claim in a federal lawsuit about pay, housing conditions and treatment by a Louisiana-based major offshore oil industry employer in Louisiana. (AP Photo)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As Hurricane Ida struck the Louisiana Gulf Coast in August 2021, Renato Decena and Rosel Hernandez watched the storm punch a hole in the roof of the bunkhouse where they were sheltered — abandoned, they allege, by their offshore oil industry employer as the hurricane bore down.

“I could not think of anything to do but to pray and to pray,” Decena, who court records indicate worked for the company for about four years, told The Associated Press.

Decena and Hernandez are two of 10 Filipino workers who are suing their former employer, major offshore oil industry company Grand Isle Shipyard, alleging they were virtual prisoners at their bunkhouse and that the company abandoned Decena, Hernandez and some of their co-workers there during the storm.

The 10 plaintiffs also allege they were illegally underpaid and that those among them who tested positive for COVID-19 were quarantined on vulnerable moored supply boats or other vessels, sometimes without adequate food or medicine.

Grand Isle Shipyard not only denies the claims but has struck back with a counterclaim accusing the workers — whose lawsuit invokes federal human trafficking and fair housing laws — of defamation.

The judge in the case dismissed the defamation allegations in a Jan. 20 order but said the company could pursue them again once the workers' lawsuit is concluded.

The competing court filings at the US District Court in New Orleans lay out starkly different views of life for Filipinos who work under federally granted visas at the Louisiana-based company.

Overseas employment of Filipino citizens has been a key part of the Philippines' economy since the government of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s, according to nonpartisan research and analysis organisation the Migration Policy Institute.

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