Labor News From the CNMI

March 10, 2008

Labor Sanctions Employer
The Saipan Tribune reports that the CNMI Department of Labor sanctioned an employer for "tardiness in processing documents to hire an alien worker." The DOL can sanction an employer for being late with papers, but not sanction the employers that owe guest workers over $6.1 million in unpaid judgments?

Federal & Local Labor Agencies Working to Address Unpaid Wages
The Secretary of the CNMI DOL, Gil M. Santos, said he will work with federal agencies to ensure the unpaid wages of contract workers who were employed by the now defunct Sun Mei Corp.

In October 2006, Labor hearing officer Jerry Cody found Sun and her Sun Mei Corp. and JSJ Corp. liable to pay a total of $430,120.74 in unpaid wages and liquidated damages to their former 57 Chinese workers.

Cody, however, learned that at that time Sun had already departed to China.

Apparently there is no communication between the courts, DOL, and CNMI Immigration since the judge deported the woman. The Saipan Tribune reported:

In June 2006, Qiao Lan Sun, president of Sun Mei Corp., was convicted in the Superior Court for engaging in illegal subcontract employment. The court sentenced Sun to one year in jail, all suspended, for two counts of illegal subcontract employment. The court directed Sun to voluntarily depart from the CNMI.

There are $6.1 million in unpaid wages that has been documented and submitted to the Federal Ombudsman, and at least 3 times that amount in undocumented unpaid wages owed to guest workers who have left the commonwealth, and were not given the opportunity to submit their papers. The CNMI Department of Labor and Attorney General Office should be going after those employers too.

CNMI Attorney General Bars Citizens of 31 Countries from Entering Commonwealth
CNMI Attorney General, Matt Gregory, has issued a list of 31 countries and one Chinese Province whose citizens are barred from entering the CNMI due to "security risks."

According to an article by reporter, Gemma Casas, the list includes:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, China’s Fujian province, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Currently, there are an estimated 600 Bangladeshi guest workers employed in the CNMI. Many have been in the commonwealth for 10 years or more, and many are also the parents of US citizen children.

The CNMI currently maintains control of its immigration, even though it is a U.S. Commonwealth. Legislation to apply federal immigration laws is being held up in the U.S. Senate. A public notice has been issued by Gregory according to the article:

In a two-page public notice, Gregory said he has the discretion to decide whether to allow citizens of the 31 countries secure a waiver of exclusion based on several factors.

“I have outlined some of the factors that will be considered when exercising my discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny a request for a waive of exclusion. Note that 1) this is a non-exhaustive list and that there may be other relevant factors considered in making the decision. 2) an applicant may satisfy one or more of the factors but still be denied for other reasons, and 3) this list does not create any rights, nor should it create an expectation that a waiver will be granted if factors on the list are satisfied by an applicant. Also, the applicant must comply with all other requirements of the Immigration Regulations in the application process, including bonding, sponsor requirements, etc.”

Federalization Poll
A poll on Rep. Joseph Camacho's web-site shows voters overwhelmingly in favor of federal takeover of immigration and granting citizenship to nonresident workers. It just makes sense. The FFFs have been going to Washington, D.C. to claim that they won't have enough guest workers in the future if the federalization legislation is passed. Aren't these the same people who declared victory when they got the "Grandfathering" clause removed from the bill that would have provided status and given them the work force they need? The U.S. should do the right thing and grant the long-term guest workers and parents of U.S. citizenship status.

Michigan Garment Factory to Close
Michigan Garment, which operated in the CNMI for 20 years is scheduled to close March 30th leaving 154 employees unemployed. According to a Saipan Tribune story , Michigan manufactures Gap and Banana Republic brands of apparel. Michigan was one of the Saipn factories named in a 1999 lawsuit brought against American retailers and garment factory contractors. They were accused of a racketeering conspiracy to exploit foreign workers and intentionally deceive consumers by labeling clothing "Made in USA" even though they were made by Asian workers in Asian-owned factories, and violated US labor laws. (Read more about it here.)

Guest Workers Sue Employer
Ferdie de la Torre of the Saipan Tribune reports that two guest workers, Aurelio T. Lacbayo and Asuncion P. Tudela, are suing their former employer, Watabe Wedding, for employment discrimination and retaliation. Attorney Stephen Woodruff is representing the two ex-employees. He stated that the Filipino workers were treated differently from the Japanese employees and were terminated after they requested unpaid overtime wages that were owed to them.

Woodruff said Wedding classified the plaintiffs as “part-time employees” while the Japanese were “full-time.”

“As a matter of policy, defendant provided 'full-time' Japanese employees with certain employment benefits, including, but not limited to, paid annual vacation, paid holidays, paid sick leave, and medical insurance coverage, which benefits were not provided to plaintiffs who were classified as 'part-time' employees,” the lawyer said.

DOL Says It Is Not Forcing Employers to Hire Resident Workers

The Marianas Variety reported that although DOL gives preference to resident job applicants, it is not forcing employers to hire unqualified workers.

The article says:

"Although Public Law 15-108 gives employment preference to citizens and permanent residents, Pangelinan said this refers to qualified resident applicants.

Pangelinan, in an interview on Thursday, said guest workers can also post their resumes on the division’s Web site or register online.

A leader of a guest workers group, Boni Sagana, said in an earlier interview that guest workers being renewed by their employers have a slim chance of retaining their jobs because of P.L. 15-108. He said a guest worker who served a company for 20 years was repatriated after a resident applicant was recommended by Labor to fill his position.

Two months later, the newly hired resident worker resigned.

According to guest workers, this story has been repeated numerous times over the last few months. One guest worker with temporary transfer papers, applied for an advertised job as a cook. He told me that he was denied the position, because the owner had "already hired a recruit from the Philippines for that job." There is something wrong with continually hiring new guest workers from overseas when so many qualified guest workers are seeking transfers.