Volunteer at CNMI Department of Labor - Guest Worker Alert!

February 16, 2008

If you haven't read Ruth Tighe's February 15, 2008 column, you can find it at On My Mind. It is full of gems, but one thing jumped out at me. Ruth's previous column, (you can read in the archives) contained some comments about one of the FFFs, (Fitial's Federalization Fighters), Deanne Siemer. Apparently Siemer asked Ruth to write a correction from her previous column. Ruth wrote:

"Deanne Siemer asked that I note that she is not a consultant/advisor but an unpaid volunteer; that she is not an "off-island person" since she has been coming to the CNMI regularly since 1976, is a member of the CNMI bar and has been living in the CNMI full-time since January 2006; that she has never met Willy Tan, has not succumbed to anyone's wiles and that her motives are not murky. Rather, she writes, "I am working for the Commonwealth because I believe it to be a wonderful place populated by very nice people whom I like and respect."

Just how does one become an unpaid "volunteer" at the CNMI DOL? I bet some of the guest workers would volunteer to be translators or to assist with other work. What is the DOL policy on volunteers, and where would one pick up a volunteer application? I have never heard of a person "volunteering" at a government office full time, having access to confidential documents, being a spokesperson for that department, or having the power to hear cases, and make decisions on department matters.

Every foreign contract worker with a labor case at DOL should consider whether they want to challenge having Deanne Siemer act as their hearing officer. As a "volunteer" should she be representing the CNMI DOL in the capacity of a hearing officer? She may not be held liable for any questionable actions she may take within the position of "volunteer. "She could make a faulty determination against a guest worker, and the DOL may not be liable because she is just a "volunteer." She could interpret a policy or law incorrectly or deny due process, but may not be held accountable for her actions because she is a "volunteer." Therefore, I suggest that the foreign contract workers consider requesting (and I would request in writing) that "volunteer" Deanne Siemer does not process their papers or hear their labor cases. Someone really needs to look into this matter.

Here are some articles about Deanne Siemer's "volunteer" activities, titles attributed to her, and related issues:

Labor fails to notify worker of hearing, December 1, 2007. Siemer is referred to as a "hearing officer" in this article:

"On Feb. 22, 2007, hearing officer Deanne C. Siemer dismissed Heo's case against Jeon Company Inc. and Kuk Young Jen after neither party appeared at the hearing.

Siemer also did not authorize Heo to seek a transfer employer.

On April 16, 2007, the complainant wrote to San Nicolas where he expressed surprise with the hearing officer's decision.

Heo said he renewed his Temporary Work Authorization for seven years and that he never received any call from Labor regarding his case."

Siemer has been credited with being the mastermind behind publishing notices of hearings in the newspapers instead of formally notifying complainants of hearings.

Labor wants to clear ‘misconceptions’ about new regs, February 1, 2008. In this article "volunteer" Siemer is a spokesperson for DOL writing a letter on its behalf to a federal official:

"In a letter to the Federal Labor Ombudsman’s Office signed by attorney Deanne C. Siemer, the department said it wants to submit a report in September regarding the implementation of the controversial Public Law 15-108 so that the Legislature can schedule hearings if it wishes to."

Alien worker claims hearing lasted less than 10 minutes, files lawsuit, December 24, 2007. Here the actions of the "volunteer" have been brought to the Superior Court. The article states:

"Yao Qiang Sha said the whole hearing conducted by then Labor administrative hearing officer Deanne C. Siemer lasted only for less than 10 minutes."

In this article she is not a "volunteer", but "a Labor administrative hearing officer."

Labor reform bill now law, November 10, 2007. Gosh, even the governor doesn't know what role Siemer plays. He thinks she is his legal counsel! This article states:

"In signing the 64-page bill, the governor gave credit to three women who served as a driving force behind the legislation: Rep. Jacinta Kaipat, Sen. Maria Pangelinan, and the governor's legal counsel, Deanne Siemer."

Labor junks worker's appeal vs Concorde, December 3, 2007. In this article the "volunteer" is referred to again as a "hearing officer" by the Labor Secreatary.

"The Labor Secretary also noted that under the terms of the settlement agreement and an administrative order entered by hearing officer Deanne C. Siemer, Zhu's complaint was dismissed with finality."

In her flurry to process labor cases, Siemer has denied workers of collecting any money owed to them before having to leave the commonwealth. This is not an isolated case, many workers have complained that they signed settlement agreements not understanding what they meant, and that they could not appeal if they signed.

'Do not tamper with labor reform law', January 24, 2008. In this article, "volunteer" Deanne Siemer is identified as "legal consul to the administration", and acts as a spokesperson for CNMI DOL:

"But Deanne Siemer, legal counsel to the administration, noted that the Labor Department actually had been circulating the regulations for comments as early as May 2007..."

Lawmakers divided on labor law, January 22, 2008. Here Siemer is again called a "legal counsel to the administration" and again acts as a spokesperson for DOL. from the article:

"Deanne Siemer, legal counsel to the administration, noted earlier that the Labor Department had been circulating for comments the draft regulations as early as May 2007, while the legislative drafting proceeded in the House."

30 more comment days for labor regs, December 16, 2007. In this article she is also identified the "legal counsel to the administration" and serves as spokesperson for the DOL.

"Deanne Siemer, legal counsel to the administration..."

'No universal assent on labor reform bill', November 2, 2007. Here Attorney Mark Hansen states:

“Of course, [Howard] Willens, [Deanne] Siemer and all those under their control said it passes muster; that’s their game. Somewhat of a federal takeover poison pill if you ask me,” he added.

And the paper again identifies her as the governor's legal counsel:

"Willens and Siemer both provide legal services to the Fitial administration, which is backing Kaipat's bill."

Commonwealth Needs true leadership, by Mark Hanson, November 8, 2007. Here the attorney writes an open letter to Siemer:

"To Deanne Siemer:

First of all, you should stop the practice of putting other people's names on the things you write, particularly the writings you have published in the newspaper. You have had a problem with, for example, failing to disclose that you are a Department of Labor hearing officer when writing as “a private lawyer” proud of the job that the department is doing to clear its substantial labor case backlogs (also a dramatic misrepresentation)."

Cohen comes to Benedetto's defense, June 1, 2007. This article details that the "volunteer" objected publicly to the Federal Ombudsman report, and contains Mr. Cohen's response.

'Ombudsman report is biased, unprofessional', May 31, 2007. In this article, "volunteer" Siemer attacks Jim Benedetto. Here she is a "private attorney" who wrote a "memorandum" that Governor Fitial submitted to David Cohen.

"Deanne C. Siemer, a private attorney, criticized Federal Ombudsman James Benedetto for failing to give local government officials the opportunity to comment on the report he submitted to U.S. Congress last year about the CNMI's labor situation."

Labor may soon hear other agencies' cases, March 12, 2007. This article states that DOL, which routinely has a major backlog problem, may begin to hear other cases. Here it is stated:

"At present, attorney Deanne Siemer has been assisting Labor in hearing old cases."

It should be noted that Ms. Siemer never corrected the newspapers when she was referred to as a "legal counsel to the governor", "a hearing case officer", "an Administrative hearing officer", or other titles attributed to her position at the CNMI DOL, as a spokesperson for DOL, or as a spokesperson for the Fitial Administration.

I would appreciate comments from attorneys. Would guest workers be within their legal rights to request that a "volunteer" at the DOL does not hear their cases? Would they be within their rights to request that an official employee of DOL review their cases if the "volunteer" issued the administrative order or rejected an appeal?