Class Action Lawsuit Against CNMI Department of Labor














Some of the administrative orders and unpaid judgments collected in December 2007.  

October 14, 2008

In July, guest workers were informed that if they had unpaid judgments they could meet with Attorney Robert H. Meyers, Jr. to join a class action suit.  Now there are 101 guest workers who have joined a lawsuit against the CNMI Department of Labor.  I am very happy to see this lawsuit become a reality!  Since 1992, I have asked government officials from the CNMI to Washington, DC why the CNMI DOL issues administrative orders and does not enforce their own judgments? I expected the federal government to file a lawsuit against DOL on behalf of the workers who have unpaid judgments.   One never materialized.

In July 2007 I collected dozens upon dozens of unpaid judgments and forwarded them to U.S. officials. In December 2007 we began the campaign to document unpaid judgments of the workers.  Over $6.1 million in unpaid judgments were documented by the federal Ombudsman's Office.  Yet those documents represent only administrative orders and unpaid judgments from guest workers who were still in the CNMI. Thousands of workers with unpaid judgments had already been repatriated with empty pockets.  

Who regulates and licenses these companies? In a 2005  Saipan Tribune article, Insurance Commissioner and Commerce Secretary Andrew Salas was quoted as putting down the system:
“The bonding issue is a joke. Bonding companies are going to file for bankruptcy. Why do we need to even worry about bonding? It's kind of late now,” he said during a recent Senate committee meeting tackling the current woes facing the garment industry.
According to the Saipan Tribune, when the Department of Labor called hundreds of unpaid guest workers to Sugar King Park in May 2008 to inform them that they would need to collect their own unpaid judgments, Labor Enforcement Supervisor Jeffrey Camacho handed the non-resident workers names of the bonding companies and the bond numbers.

If the Department of Labor hires a "labor enforcement supervisor" why aren't judgments and administrative orders enforced by this department? Clearly, DOL has taken little action to collect unpaid wages and money owed to employees whether from the employers or the bonding companies.

For years I have asked why the bonding companies did not step up to pay the workers when the employers defaulted on the monetary judgments on the administrative orders issued by DOL. Was it because the DOL never went after the bonding companies? Because they were insolvent, as many have said?  Because there was no one in the CNMI to make them pay? No oversight?  

Hopefully, the guest workers will have an answer soon. The Marianas Variety reported:
Issues regarding insolvent bonding companies and the failure of the Department of Labor to enforce its regulations will be addressed by the lawsuit that will be filed soon by guest workers.

Robert Myers, the lawyers of the guest workers, said they want to compel Labor to enforce the law.

Myers said Labor has not taken action to collect the workers’ unpaid wages from the employers or the bonding companies.

Labor, he added, is only interested in giving the displaced workers their repatriation tickets.

If an employer shuts down or declares bankruptcy, Myers said the bond company is supposed to pay the unpaid wages, unpaid medical expenses and the repatriation ticket.

“Why is Labor having a hard time going after the bond companies,” he asked.

The lawsuit, he said, should result in an inventory and accounting of all bond companies operating in the CNMI.
If any guest worker has an unpaid judgment from an administrative order that has been issued within 6 years from September 30, 2008, they can join this lawsuit. Guest workers can meet with Attorney Robert H. Meyers at his office at the Summer Holiday Hotel in Garapan.  The attorney can also be contacted at: Lwyr4u@gmail.com or 483-5997.  Workers can also meet at Winchells in Garpan with Irene Tantiado to gain more information about the lawsuit. She will be meeting with workers from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. each evening until Sunday.

Meyers said, "If the issue on unclaimed wages is not resolved, bonding companies will continue to receive money from guest workers even though these firm are not complying with the regulations."

Attorney Meyers said that the Department of Labor is only interested in giving the workers their repatriation tickets.  I believe this has been true for decades.  However, the other day a guest worker called me to tell me he was leaving.  He said he went to the Department of Labor to ask for a ticket since he could not get one from his former employer. He was told to stay on Saipan because DOL has no more money to pay for workers' repatriation.  Is it true that they no longer have the funds to repatriate workers?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tita Wendy!!

You should just shut this website down. You got what you want the Federal Takeover is now a law you used the CW in the CNMi but they don't get anything good, instead of getting improved status a lot of them are going home.

This website is useless!!

Wendy said...

Hey Anonymous -I'm not your Tita, and I don't take advice from anonymous commenters.

Lwyr4u.com said...

From Atty. Robert Myers:

Around the end of March 2009, Dept. of Labor (DOL)'s "special" counsel, Deanne Siemer, came to my office to discuss the class-member unpaid wages case, among other unpaid wage cases I represent (such as the most recent RIFU APPAREL garment matter). FYI, the posture of the class-member case is "judicial review or mandamus relief," not a lawsuit or class action suit. There's a big difference between the two. What we are doing is appealing to the court to compel DOL to do what it's mandate requires: to enforce the surety bonding company's obligations under the statutory labor bonds pursuant to the Nonresident Worker Act and its related Alien Labor Rules and Regs. (See NMIADMIN § 80-20.1-858 for exactly what DOL is/was supposed to do as to Collection of Administrative Orders/Awards.)

Anyway, atty Siemer told me that they are going to do its mandate (i.e., enforcement) since two NMI courts have now held they are the only ones with authority to enforce. The first court was the decision by Assoc. Judge Ramona V. Manglona, Smith & Williams vs. Royal Crown Ins. Corp. The second court decision by Assoc. Judge Perry B. Inos. In both cases, the judges held much the same. And that is precisely what I argued on appeal.

Atty Siemer said she wanted to come up with a clear and one-time method of getting the surety bonding companies to pay. What she didn't come right out and say is that DOL wants to get the workers paid and then send them home. Why? Because our law allows unpaid wage claimants/workers to stay in the CNMI until final resolution of that case. Also, what many lawyers don't request for their nonresident worker clients is an order from the court directing the Director of DOL to issue a TWA, which has to be issued, no questions asked. I do this for my clients.

Despite atty Siemer's apparent desire to cooperate, the most recent actions or inactions of DOL are status quo. They have been harassing my clients in this case that they have to leave. But I have solved this problem with the an asst. atty. gen. handling immigration and deportation cases. So despite DOL is trying to get rid of my clients pending their case, the OAG is resisting those DOL attempts. I am not sure if DOL actually knows that, but so be it.

I know that DOL doesn't want for me to get the TWAs for my clients from the court. This means all their work to get rid of my clients, and others like them, is wasted. That means that DOL must figure out a way to pay unpaid wages cases or else it will end up in the court system.

As to the class-member case, DOL's new atty has moved for partial summary judgment because it found no bonds for 5 people and 1 surety bonding company is no longer on island and doing business. Unfortunately, our law doesn't allow for that unless DOL first moved for full summary judgment. DOL failed to do that.

Also, DOL still fails or refused to turn over the requested docs under the final procedural order of the court. I asked for all admin orders, bonding docs, info, etc. a long time ago, but still DOL hasn't turned them over.

That's where we are so far. If anyone out there needs help with unpaid wages, memorandum, TWA, TSA (temp. stay authorization), labor complaint, appeal to secretary, or any order denying whatever requested, please call 670-234-3184 ext 104 to schedule free consult, or email to Lwyr4u@gmail.com, or visit my website at www.Lwyr4u.com.