Department of Labor News

May 22, 2008

On DOL Reentry Policy

Director Melvin Grey from the Division of Immigration has clarified a new DOL policy. It was announced last week that guest workers leaving the islands to vacation or for medical reasons must have signed a copy of a "notice of temporary exit" or they may not be able to return. The Marianas Variety reported the policy last week:

According to the Commonwealth Register, a foreign worker whose contract is terminated is required to exit the commonwealth within 15 days after the termination date of an approved employment contract.

The worker cannot remain unless the contract is renewed, or a case or transfer is pending, or the worker has filed for a 15-day extension in connection with processing a transfer or filing a complaint.

A foreign national worker who exits the commonwealth during the term of an approved employments contract is required to file with the Enforcement Division a notice on the standard form provided by the Department of Labor.

The foreign worker who fails to file the notice before departing the commonwealth may be barred from reentering the islands.

After outrage was expressed at the new policy not being announced, it has been clarified that the paper is a "survey" and guest workers who do depart the CNMI can return regardless of whether the paper was completed or not. According to the Marianas Variety:

He [Director Grey] said guest workers who left the CNMI without signing Labor’s “standard form” can still come back.

“If their reentry letter is valid and their permit is valid, even if they have not signed the form they can still come back,” Grey said, adding that the form is “not a travel requirement.”

He said the Labor form is just a survey form implemented to protect the workers and their employers while ensuring that the CNMI observes the cap on the number of guest workers following the enactment of the federalization law.

On Jan. 22, Labor’s new regulation on exit during and after a guest worker’s contract term was published in the Commonwealth Register.

According to the regulation, any guest worker who fails to file the notice of temporary exit before departing the CNMI may be “precluded from re-entering the commonwealth.”

A guest worker, moreover, is required to leave the CNMI within 15 days after the date of his or her contract’s termination, unless the contract is renewed or a case or transfer is pending, or the worker has filed for a 15-day extension in connection with processing a transfer or filing a complaint.

Maybe DOL should communicate with the Division of Immigration before releasing statements on new policy. To say the guest workers are confused, would be an understatement.

Cinta on Human Trafficking

In another letter to the editor today Cinta Kaipat states that PL 15-108 will end sexual trafficking. While she may be sincere, she also said this:

"Labor Secretary Gil San Nicolas and I, together with our Labor Department personnel, remain committed to doing everything in our power to eliminate the stain of alleged sex trafficking from the commonwealth, and we urge every citizen and resident of the commonwealth to be on the lookout for and to report any such activities as promptly as possible. All information received from the public will be treated confidentially and will be followed up quickly."

She actually said "alleged sex trafficking", yes alleged! Ms. Kaipat should contact Sister Stella and Lauri Ogumoro to understand that the sexual trafficking problem in the CNMI is not ALLEGED. She is again insulting every minor, every woman, and every person who has ever been a victim of human or sexual trafficking.

Attorney Mark Hanson's Letter Remarking on Kaipat's Letter to me...

Attorney Mark Hanson wrote a letter to the editor remarking on Cinta Kaipat's incredible letter to the editor to me which attacked the integrity of the guest workers. (I responded to the letter in a post on this website yesterday.) Here is Mr. Hanson's letter that was published in the Marianas Variety and the Saipan Tribune today:

Friday, May 23, 2008

A slander against alien workers

As I am busy helping alien contract workers in the Commonwealth-workers it appears the Department of Labor now presumes are lying (see Cinta Kaipat (purportedly) letter to the editor on May 22, 2008)-I generally don't have the time or the inclination to respond to the inane rhetoric I occasionally read in the Commonwealth print media (meaning I occasionally read letters to the editor, not that there is only occasionally inane rhetoric from rather prolific writers). This time, however, I cannot help but respond to the comments of the Deputy Secretary of Labor, not in defense of Wendy Doromal necessarily, but in defense of the wrongly accused alien contract workers and worker advocates, generally.

Actually, I should not say that the CNMI Department of Labor is only now aggressively advancing the proposition that "most workers only want one thing to remain in the Commonwealth as long as possible," and to that end they will "make almost any untrue assertion without fear of contradiction." That misguided belief has existed for as long as I have been here, albeit in the past it was a mostly unspoken position. Now it appears regularly in letters to the editor by public officials.

In the past, it was the government advocates of the garment industry that cast such aspersion on such a disenfranchised group of individuals (think convicted felon and former CNMI Labor Secretary Mark Zachares). What is more shocking now, however, is the broader scope of Department's assertion and the inclusion of worker advocates as a focus of the Department of Labor's misguided and arguably racist attitude (yeah, I said it, racist). It is equally troubling the lengths to which the Department appears willing to go to spread this propaganda, apparently believing that if government officials just say stuff over and over again, the naive public will eventually believe that it is true. For those in the dark, the propaganda campaign is titled "Public Education and Outreach" and is guided by two very gifted spin doctors.

Further, the irony of the Department's statement that "a very high proportion" of wage cases are abandoned by the workers is apparently over the heads of its officials. Questions: If workers know they cannot collect unpaid wages from deadbeat employers, then why fight for the wages? If Labor officials provide absolutely no assistance to the workers or even investigate the claims, then why purse them? Do you think maybe those are factors in workers' decisions to abandon the unpaid wages and move on? Hmmm. It might also be a factor in why workers have a hard time finding advocates to help them collect unpaid wages (at least advocates that don't charge exorbitant fees up front which makes it hardly worth the effort).

And the Department's position that the workers can collect their own wages through the courts is equally laughable. I am an attorney and I believe I speak English fairly well. I don't like small claims court and have actually had little success collecting against foreign business owners that owe money-there is a reason they owe the money. You really think alien workers with limited or no English skills are going to be able to collect in court? Try it yourself first in English, then try it in a foreign language with or without a "translator" that will surely take a large, but undisclosed portion of your recovery. Then try it with a full-time job where if you miss one day for court you get fired.

And whatever happened to wage bond enforcement (now called a "security contract")? Whatever happened to the Labor Trust Account Revolving Fund? Aren't those supposed to be sources for payment to workers for defaulting employers? Doesn't the Department have an obligation to administer those worker protection programs; pay out from the trust and collect on bonds? Or does that cater too much to the lying workers and undermine the government’s now explicit complaining alien eradication policy, a.k.a Public Law 15-108. Is it proper policy for the Department to burden the Superior Court by shirking the responsibilities rightly placed with the Department by statute? How many of those non-paying employers are allowed to hire new alien contract workers? Oh, yeah, there are no non-paying employers; the workers are all making up claims.

The very idea that the Commonwealth Department of Labor offers greater protections to workers in the CNMI than is available to workers in the states is ridiculous. By its own admission, the Department actually investigates and enforces relatively few unpaid wage cases out of the large number of complaints that are filed. The United States Department of Labor, on the other hand, takes a very active role (even on Saipan) in enforcing unpaid wage determinations after complaints are made. Failure to pay has serious consequences including additional fines and enforcement actions. The United States Department of Labor files lawsuits-yes lawsuits-against employers who fail to comply with its administrative decisions. Here in the Commonwealth, the Department doesn't even seek to enforce its fines, much less hold employers accountable for unpaid wage orders.

Given the continuing need of CNMI employers for alien workers, you would think it an easy thing to coerce compliance with administrative orders. Proper employment practices is not the objective of the Department-I have argued that all along.

In the past, worker advocates have successfully challenged in the courts many of the positions now being taken by the Department of Labor. Labor officials, apparently undeterred by the possibility of personal liability, have decided to try again. The question is: Why? The answer eludes me.

Finally, I find it appalling that the Department of Labor would take the position that alien workers with unpaid wages somehow get an undue benefit through liquidated damages. First, such a statement shows complete ignorance of the traditional role of liquidated damages in employment law-to make the employee whole for having to wait and sacrifice to get what was always owed to him or her. Second, it further defines the role of the Department against the interest of the alien contract worker.

And don't mislead the public. Under federal law, liquidated damages for unpaid wages is generally mandatory, and that goes back three years-not the inequitable six months contained in Ms. Kaipat's Public Law 15-108. Although I strongly disagree with the policy and I continue to challenge decisions, the CNMI Department of Labor's prevailing position on damages for unprovided future work is that the worker is NOT entitled to liquidated damages. So don't misrepresent that workers somehow get an undeserved double recovery in circumstances where the Department itself disallows such a recovery.

Ms. Kaipat, your letter to the editor typifies the sort of slander that is tearing this community and this fragile economy apart. You are not promoting any discernable good. You are not promoting local jobs. You are not promoting good business practices. You are promoting hatred, intolerance, paranoia, fear, and deception and fostering abusive employment practices. The workers need a voice. That should go without saying. They are the majority. Like it or not, they and their children are the future of the Commonwealth. That cannot be denied. As soon as people like you accept that, we can move on and start building an economy and a local workforce that can survive Federal takeover of immigration. The course we're on now promises just the opposite.

I am sure you or the true Ruler of Labor, Deanne Seimer (and probably the author of Ms. Kaipat's letter) will now write back with personal attacks against me filled with the same sort of lies and spin contained in your last letter with my name on it. I expect it. I don't welcome it. I have a job to do and this is not it. I suggest the same is true for you. Do your job. Stop all the propaganda, and do your job.

Mark B. Hanson
Garapan, Saipan


Anonymous said...

I thinks its high time to change the name of Department of Labor & Immigration with all this.

The new name should be Bureau of Deportation and Immigration. As you can see most of their job is to deport "lying' guest workers and less tourists/workers for immigration.

Ron Hodges said...

Mark Hanson is a true defender of freedom and the ideals of America and a spekesperson for liberty and justice here.

wendy said...

I have been hoping that an attorney would step up and speak out on the unjust policies and statements coming from DOL. Thank you, Mr. Hanson.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Atty . Hanson for your concern to the guest workers!
Thank you vcery much!