WOODSIDE, N.Y. – Following their legal victory in a criminal case filed by Sentosa Care, LLC, the nurses and their lawyer, Felix Vinluan, met with representatives of several community organizations Sunday, January 25 at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center here.
Elmer Jacinto, one of the Avalon-10 accused nurses, spoke on their behalf, thanking their supporters and the community for their continued moral support and financial assistance during the nurses’ ordeal. At the same time, he informed the community that their struggle for justice is not yet over and that a civil case against them is in progress. A court hearing on the civil case was held January 23.
The civil suits are against the 10 Avalon nurses and other nurses at affiliated nursing homes who also quit their jobs.
“I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all of you who continue to support us. Without you, we would have not been encouraged to persevere to pursue our rights,” Jacinto said to a close to hundred supporters who attended the event.
At the same time, Vinluan, who was likewise charged with them, applauded the nurses for having taken a stance for their rights against the “politically, well-connected owners of the Sentosa Enterprise.” He then summarized the events that ensued after nurses resigned from Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center and other facilities managed and controlled by Sentosa Care.
However, Vinluan bemoaned the decisions by Philippine government agencies, particularly the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The POEA lifted the suspension of Sentosa Recruitment Agency’s recruitment license after it received a letter from New York Senator Charles Schumer. According to Vinluan, the POEA dismissed the charges filed by the nurses. Although the nurses claimed that the recruitment agency committed misrepresentation in the recruitment process and contract substitution, the POEA notified the nurses that they could be deployed to any of the affiliates of Sentosa Care.
The Executive Labor Arbiter likewise rejected the nurses’ constructive dismissal and money claims against the recruitment agency and its principals. The labor arbiter found that the nurses pre-terminated their three-year employment contract and that the nurses had an obligation to give a two-weeks notice.
Vinluan said that the recent decision of the appeals court in New York prohibiting District Attorney Tom Spota and Judge Robert Doyle from prosecuting and hearing the case is a direct opposite of the findings raised by the POEA and the National Labor Relations Commission.
“The Appellate Division’s findings were that the nurses individually signed up with particular nursing homes (and not with Sentosa Care) as their US employer,” Vinluan argued.
“However, when they arrived in the US, the nurses were not provided any employment by the contracting employers. They instead found employment with a nursing employment agency that eventually assigned them to work at various nursing homes affiliated with Sentosa Care, LLC. Thus, the contracts had been breached,” he added.
He also said that as a result, the employment relationship between the nurses and their actual employer, which is the nursing employment agency, was an employment at will. This meant that the nurses could exercise their right to resign anytime in the same way that the employer could terminate the nurses’ services anytime.
The labor cases in the Philippines are both on appeal.