Initially, these DCPS teachers came to me in fear. They shared with me that they were being threatened with deportation … if they did not pay high fees for services that they did not receive.
April 22, 2019
Statement of Elizabeth A. Davis, President, Washington Teachers’ Union,
Before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, The Honorable Charles Allen, Chairperson
PUBLIC HEARING THE FISCAL YEAR 2020 BUDGET
OF THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Good afternoon Chairman Allen, Councilmembers, and staff. My name is Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union and I am privileged to represent the city’s 5,000 hardworking and dedicated DC Public School teachers. The Washington Teachers’ Union take our mission to protect and support the civil, human and legal rights of all our members extremely seriously, and that it why I am here today to support the budget requests of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
After his election in 2015, Attorney General Racine created a Labor Advisory Group for him to hear the concerns of the District’s labor partners and fo them to learn about OAG’s initiatives. This partnership has led to excellent outcomes for District workers. I want to touch briefly on a specific example of the effectiveness of our labor partnership and how the OAG is using its resources to help vulnerable residents and workers of the District.
On April 1st, OAG announced a lawsuit against Earl Francisco Lopez and his teacher exchange companies – Bilingual Teacher Exchange (BTE) and related entities – for preying upon dozens of foreign teachers working in D.C. schools. OAG alleges that Mr. Lopez and his companies falsely represented themselves to the teachers as federally designated visa “sponsor” companies and as representatives of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS).
An OAG investigation revealed that although BTE was a third-party teacher recruiter, it led teachers to believe that they could not work at District schools without entering into a contract with BTE and paying much higher fees than those charged by legitimate J-1 visa sponsors. Initially, these DCPS teachers came to me in fear. They shared with me that they were being threatened with deportation by Mr. Lopez if they did not pay him high fees for services that they did not receive.
Moreover, these teachers did not feel they had a route for advocacy, and it took all my persuasive ability to get them to meet with the Attorney General and his staff. Literally while fighting through tears, these teachers gave example after example of how they were being bullied, mistreated, and deceived. They entered the meeting with fear and I am pleased to report that they left with hope. That is why the April 1st announcement of this lawsuit was so critically important to teachers and all District workers. I am proud to say that we have an OAG that cares and is dedicated to the public interest.
Therefore, I wholeheartedly support the addition of FTEs to assist in Civil Rights work. It is my understanding that OAG is seeking a supervisory attorney, a more junior attorney, an investigator, and a support staffer to assist in this work. It is critically important that when there are large cases, where vulnerable people, like teachers and other city workers, are being bullied and discriminated against, our OAG can step-in to act.
I also support the OAG’s request to increase the cap of their Litigation Support Fund. These are funds they retain from their lawsuits. OAG is looking to increase their cap from $5 million to $15 million. This will allow the Office of the Attorney General to be able to use a portion of these funds, perhaps between $4 million and $6 million on hiring FTEs to meet the agency’s public interest mission.
Thank you for this opportunity to share WTU’s support of OAG’s enhancement requests. I am pleased to answer any questions that the members of the Committee may have. Thank you.