Workers and Advocates Outraged at Department of Labor

May 29, 2008

When I first heard that the CNMI Department of Labor was requesting the victims of labor abuse to collect their own judgments, I was outraged. The idea has turned out to be even more idiotic and unjust then I previously thought. In today's Saipan Tribune, Ferdie de la Torre reports that the victims with unpaid judgments were given "packets" by DOL yesterday to help them file a small claims case to collect their money from deadbeat employers. Come to find out, as Attorney Mark Hanson pointed out in his letter to the editor, it will be nearly impossible for the victims to collect the money.

The article states:

Some alien workers who were advised by the Department of Labor to file small claims to collect their administrative awards went to court yesterday but soon backed out upon learning that it will their responsibility to serve their complaints to their previous employers.

“How can we serve our complaints to our previous employers when in fact they just shut down their factory, abandoned us, and left the CNMI?” one of the four workers who went to the Superior Court yesterday told Saipan Tribune.

The four used to work at the defunct Sako Garment Factory in San Antonio. One of them already paid $20 at the Superior Court's cashier's office to file small claims against Sako and its president, Hee Kun Kyun, and vice-president Hyung Ki Min.

A Waste of Money

The DOL, instead of enforcing their own administrative orders and judgments and going after the violating employers, just tossed their responsibility back on the worker-victims. The abused guest workers first have to pay a fee to file a labor complaint. Then DOL expects them to come up with another fee to collect their money from the courts. The Tribune reported:

Saipan Tribune observed the workers discussing with the court staff the procedures in filing small claims. The court employee explained to them that their small claims will be taken off calendar if the court finds that the complainants failed to serve the defendants with the complaints.

The court staff said that once the workers file the small claims, they could not get their filing fee back. The staff said they should let somebody or their friends serve the complaints.The workers reasoned out that it is impossible for them to serve the complaints because their previous employers had abandoned them a few years ago.

The workers said that filing the small claims is just a waste of their hard earned $20. The one who already paid $20 went back to the cashier's office accompanied by the three other workers to get back her money.

The packet that the cheated workers received from DOL also had a list of attorneys. Perhaps DOL personnel could explain how a guest worker who has been cheated of wages will come up with the money to hire an attorney. The workers who were given a packet were told they must file a small claim at the court within 15 days according to the article. The article states:

They said the small claims packets handed to them by Labor staff listed the lawyers who would entertain small claims.

The workers said they decided to proceed to Labor to file small claims by themselves because their claim is only $500 each and that nothing will be left for them if they hire a lawyer.

They said they are very thankful to the court staff who explained to them the consequences of filing small claims without serving the complaints to the defendants.

“Twenty dollars is a big amount for us. I can buy sardines and rice with that amount,” one worker said.

The article details how workers were told by DOL to report to Sugar King Park's Roundhouse this past Wednesday. Their names appeared on a list published in the newspaper with instructions to appear. According to the article:

One worker said that some of them thought that during the Wednesday meeting at Sugar King Park, Labor would hand out checks since Kara's administrative order was issued three years ago.
The worker said some also thought that they would get another check from the settlement money in the class action against garment factories.

The other worker said some of them were at the Sugar King Park Wednesday at 9am and went back in the afternoon due to a power outage until they were finally given small claim packets shortly before 4pm.

The Superior Court is charging $20 for small claims of $500 or less; $30 for $501 to $2,000; and $40 for $2,000 to $3,000. It was not clear yet how many alien workers filed small claims in court after Labor gave them the small claim packets last Wednesday. But a court staff said one already paid $20 to file small claims, one got back the payment, while others came with waivers to file without payment, to be signed by a judge.

What is the intent of DOL? To excuse themselves from the responsibility of enforcing their own orders by throwing them back to the victims? Do they think it is possible for the victims to collect what is owed to them in this manner? They are telling the victims that they must go to small claims court within 15 days -or what - they will be deported if they don't have a stay from the court?

CNMI Department of Labor "Stick it to the Victim Scavenger Hunt"

The CNMI Department of Labor is instructing victims of labor abuse to go through a crazy and humiliating process much like a twisted scavenger hunt. DOL has laid even more obstacles in the path of non-resident workers who are attempting to collect unpaid judgments. Here is an outline of the scavenger hunt they have prepared for those of you who are non-resident workers with unpaid judgments:

1. Purchase and read the local papers every day because your name could be in it.

2. Follow the instructions in the paper by reporting to the spot the DOL tells you to report such as the Sugar King Park Roundhouse or the DOL offices.

3. Follow orders of DOL personnel who hand you a packet that instructs you to jump through more hoops to get the money owed to you by violating employers.

4. Attempt to collect your own judgments using more of your own money (if you have any) to pay the court fees, and to pay for gas or a taxi to get to the courthouse.

5. Find out at the courthouse that you, the victim, will have to serve your former abusive employer with the court documents stating he or she must pay you now. Remember this is the same violating employer who never honored the law by paying you what you were owed in the first place; who you filed a labor complaint against; and who refused to honor the administrative order and judgment issued by DOL.

6. Try to locate the violating employer. (This could be the hardest part of the DOL Scavenger Hunt since many have declared bankruptcy or left the islands.) Worry about what reaction the employer will have if you actually can locate this person. For those whose labor cases included abuses aside from unpaid wages, worry about the danger you could be in if you try to serve the former employer.

7. If you locate the person, and the chances are slim to none that you will, wait for the employer to do the right thing. You may wait a long time since this person knows there are no true consequences from the CNMI government for not paying their employees fairly. You may wait for a long time because DOL never attempted to collect the judgments so the employers, after all of these years, think they are no longer responsible for their debts. You may wait a long time because DOL never handed the unpaid judgments over to the CNMI Attorney General's Office to collect.

8. Wait to see if DOL demands that since you have been unsuccessful in collecting your judgment, you can now leave the CNMI. This will allow them to bring in virgin workers who can be easily duped by employers and are not savvy to the corrupt CNMI labor system. This will make it easier for the CNMI government and DOL because "fresh" workers are more likely to quietly accept disenfranchisement and the denial of basic rights. This process will also ensure that should status for long-term guest workers be given, there will be fewer who qualify.

My contempt for this government department deepens each time I hear of another unjust and troubling policy that the CNMI Department of Labor has devised to punish the victims of labor abuse, and excuse their violators.

Please take the time to read the entire Saipan Tribune article. Ferdie de la Torre did a great job in reporting this outrageous procedure.


Anonymous said...

i really feel pity to all employees abuse by their abusive employers. And i feel pity too wt the Labor employees (esp. the higher position) that they dont know what they are doing. How i wish that the federal are watching all your actions. And how i wish that YOU GUYS WILL BE OUT FROM YOUR POSITION once the federal is in!!! Lets wait and see....

Anonymous said...

Question is can they file small claims against the bonding company? Royal Crown Insurance is still in business.

I have some friends that were awarded administrative orders 4-5 years back. The bonding company is Royal Crown and up to now, they have not received any. I also heard that Royal Crown's corporate lawyer even tried to bargain for 2-months salary rather than that of 3-months salary as indicated on the bond.

Anonymous said...

is century oweing in of the money and i bet they don't pay