My name is Sathaporn Pornsrisirisak. I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and worked as a repair man, servicing televisions and air conditioners for an appliance retail company. I looked for a job in the United States of America because we wanted a better life for ourselves. I had one small child and a wife, and we wanted a better life for our family. I knew that if I worked in America, I could make more money than if I stayed in Thailand. In America, if you worked one day, you could make about $100/ day, and you could buy food and still have some money to buy things. But in Thailand, with the money you made for one day of work, you could buy food and be left with nothing. So I decided to try to find a job in America.
After I decided to go to America, I applied to four or five work agencies that sent people to America to work. Some of these agencies had agreement with the US government, and some had agreements with private companies. In 2001, I met a high-ranking executive at Kota Manpower. I was told that there were jobs in America through Kota Manpower. She told me that the openings were for welders. I believe that I could do the job because I had ten years of experience as a welder before I became a repairman. While I was studying to become an electrician, I also was working as a welder in Thailand. So I filled an application.
A short time later, Kota Manpower called me to tell me that it would cost 500,000 baht to come to America and work. They also told me that I needed to pay 300,000 baht in cash to start the process. Kota Manpower told me that the fee included expenses for obtaining a visa to enter the United States, and housing and food expenses for during the time that I worked in America. The fee was very high, so my family had to get a loan and use our homes and land as collateral.
It took over one year to get the visa process completed. Applicants also had to take a test for welders to make sure we were qualified for the position. Additionally, we had to get a welding license. We finally received H-2B visas to enter the United States and flew out on December 3, 2002. I remember that it was the year after 9/11.
I was one of the forty-nine workers who were brought into the United States of America by Kota Manpower. Mr. Yu Tek Kim, a Korean job placement person with Kota Manpower, picked all forty-nine Thai men from the airport. We stayed in a hotel for a few days before he sent twenty-seven of us to Long Beach, and the rest to Los Angeles, California. According to the work contract, we were to work as welders. However, when we arrived in America, we were not offered the welding job as stated on the contract.
We were forced to work in a restaurant in Long Beach and Los Angeles instead. I was sent to Long Beach to work. We started off with fixing everything up until the restaurant could be opened—we painted, installed lighting, did construction for the new restaurant. We were under the supervision of Mr. Kim. Once the restaurant opened for business, I became an employee there. I worked as a waiter, and others did the same or worked as dishwashers or cooks. All of the cooks, dishwashers, and waiters were from the same group that Kota Manpower brought over from Thailand.
The other workers and I had to live in a house where the living conditions were terrible. There was no electricity or gas. We were not able to go anywhere because our passports were taken away. Aside from that, we had to earn money to pay for the 500,000 Baht that we owed for the job placement commission.
The other workers and I had to work ten hours a day. After working there for three months in December 2002 to early March 2003, we each received only $200 for our work while we still owed fees and interest on the job placement commission. We could clearly see that Mr. Kim did not plan to have us work at Trans Bay in accordance with the work contract which was for $19 per hour as a welder. As long as we still have to pay the high interest rate and debts, we were not able to withstand this living condition.
Around March 2003, a Thai person named Noi came to the Long Beach restaurant, called Krung Thai Hot, to eat. A few of us had talked to other Thai people who frequented the restaurant about our circumstances. They helped us by bringing us extra food to eat, but that was it. But Noi helped by getting us in touch with Thai Community Development Center.
Because of these terrible conditions, fifteen of us decided to escape. The night before we fled in March 2003, I called Noi and asked him to come to our residence at 9 AM when others would have left for the restaurant. Others were too scared to leave. I later met two men who had escaped from the Los Angeles restaurant who later joined us. Some of them fled to a Thai temple to seek refuge.
Thai CDC contacted numerous attorneys and legal organizations to see if someone could assist us. Then the EEOC got involved. EEOC helped us with the T-visa process. The EEOC also helped us with regard to Trans Bay Steel. Trans Bay kept denying that it had any knowledge of what being done with Thai workers brought here by Kota Manpower. The EEOC were able to pull Trans Bay in to say that it was also responsible for what happened to us. The EEOC also was successful in getting Trans Bay to provide us monetary compensation, assist us with housing, pay for transportation costs for moving from Los Angeles, assist in securing legal status for us, provide us with educational opportunities, and get us jobs. I got a job with Trans Bay because the EEOC stepped in. Thirteen out of the fifteen employees from the Long Beach restaurant got jobs with Trans Bay. About nine workers from the Los Angeles restaurant also got jobs with Trans Bay.
I worked for Trans Bay for two years. The work with Trans Bay ended in December 2007. Trans Bay recommended us to another company, and I worked there in San Francisco as a welder for six months and at other steel companies since then.
I finally got my T visa in 2005 or 2006. It was approximately three to four years from when we first arrived to America. The EEOC also provided us with a chance to return to our warm and loving family once again. My wife and daughter were able to come to the United States in 2006. My wife currently works at two Thai restaurants in Napa and American Canyon. My daughter is thirteen years old. She is in middle school in Napa. She's a good student, and she speaks very good English.
Until today, we have won and found a better life. After the long fight, I stand here today with pride and joy at the outcome. The most important things for us today that even money cannot compensate are the freedom, righteousness, and family. Even though I was exposed to the worst in America, but at the same time I could also see the best that this country has to offer. For example, the law that brought justice for the residents who were less fortunate and were being taken advantage off and never dreamed that this type of justice would exist in the society.
As a representative of the workers, I would like to thank this country all the people that helped us for returning our pride and lives back to us once again. I want to thank all the people and organizations involved in this matter. I would like all of them to know that “you have given us a new life, a gift which is invaluable to us.” Please continue this great duty forever. Thank you very much.