A local contractor that allegedly didn't pay its immigrant workers, kept them in the country longer than allowed, and faked documents and plane tickets to cover it up can no longer operate on Guam. The board suspended the license of Hua Sheng International Group Corp. and Responsible Management Employee Steven Wang yesterday, according to a press release from the Guam Contractors Licensing Board.
Wang and his company acted unethically by submitting fabricated documents that suggested a group of Chinese workers had left the island when they really stayed, the release said. Moreover, the company has not paid $63,000 in civil penalties it owes to the Department of Labor, the release stated.
"Not one single payment has been made to the Department of Labor addressing this civil penalty," the release said.
On April 7, more than 20 disgruntled Hua Sheng H-2 workers marched from their barracks in Yigo to the Guam Department of Labor office in Hagåtña to file a complaint saying they weren't being paid.
About two weeks later, the Department of Labor wrote a letter to the company that said the agency believed the back wages were owed to the workers.
The letter also said the workers must go back to China, since a petition to extend their H-2 status was denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Buildings are made of plywood, tin and concrete blocks. No doors separate the inside from the outside. Extension cords run through weeds from another building to provide electricity.
At night, the man sleeps under a mosquito net because his window has no screen. He showers in cold water that comes from a bare spout emerging from the wall. He has worn the same clothes for three days because he has to wash clothes by hand.
Life was difficult back home in China, but he and the 40 other workers living in the compound said they didn't expect that their search for better-paying jobs on Guam would put them in these kinds of conditions.
The more than 40 men have lived in the makeshift worker barracks for about six months. They said they refuse to leave Guam until they receive what they said are unpaid wages totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Saipan barracks 1998, photo by W. L. Doromal ©1998
Guam barracks 2009, photo by Pacific Daily News
And here is what the Chinese workers had to say:
The workers asked not to be identified because they feared retaliation against themselves and their families in China. Maneuvering around buckets placed on the floor to catch rain that leaked through the roof, they gathered recently in a room of the compound to talk about their conditions.
"We never thought it would be like this," one worker said through a translator. "The U.S. is a free country -- they have rights here."
The man said he was brought from Nantong, on the banks of China's Yangtze River, a year-and-a-half ago to work for local construction company Hua Sheng International Corp. Now, he just wants to be paid and go home...
..."We came here legally," one worker said. "Why should we go back as criminals?"
"Everybody here is waiting to get paid," a worker said, gesturing around the group of men. He said their families -- all said they have wives and children in China -- are waiting for the money.
Going back empty-handed would be shameful, he said.
On April 7, dozens of the workers marched 12 miles -- from their barracks off Wusstig Road to the Guam Department of Labor's offices in Hagåtña -- to complain. Authorities have ordered the company to pay, but the workers said they are still waiting for the money.
One of the workers said when he and his co-workers were at the Labor Department recently, Wang waited by the department's door and gave them checks -- checks that bounced when they tried to cash them.
The worker said he was still waiting for more than $14,000 for more than two years of work for Hua Sheng.
Both the federal and local Labor authorities, as well as other agencies, continue to work on the case, agency representatives said recently.
Hua Sheng has no valid permits for worker dormitories, said Tom Nadeau, environmental health administrator for the Department of Public Health and Social Services.
Greg Massey, administrator for Guam Labor's Alien Labor Processing and Certification Division, said he couldn't comment on his open investigation into this case, but he said he hasn't seen a situation as bad as this in more than 10 years.
Guam living quarters 2009, photo by the Pacific Daily News
Saipan living quarters 1998, photo by W. L. Doromal ©1998
One would have hoped that Guam had learned a lesson from its neighbors to the north. Apparently not. What are some of the problems with the local CNMI labor system, and perhaps with Guam's?
- Too little oversight and coordination between the local and federal agencies tasked with enforcing regulations.
- Not enough staff to conduct routine scheduled and unscheduled inspections of workplaces and barracks.
- Fear of retaliation for speaking out.
- Lack of translators in local offices.
- Lack of coordination between home and host countries in setting standardized regulations for recruitment and recruitment fees.
- Local administration of labor programs in places where nepotism and strong family ties interfere with enforcement and regulations. Corruption.
- Lack of consistent application of regulations and policies, which results in denial of due process for abused foreign contract workers.
- No jail time or real consequences for the worst labor abusers (except perhaps in cases of human trafficking). Lack of teeth in local laws.
- Refusal of local system and government to adequately assist victims and cheated workers in getting unpaid judgments and justice from abusive employers.
- Shift of responsibility and blame from agency to agency and department to department.
- Deportation of foreign contract workers before they receive their pay or unpaid judgments.
- No required exit surveys of all foreign nationals to determine if they are owed any back wages or were otherwise cheated on U.S. soil.
- Lack of adequate local and federal funds.
- Local system's denial of abuses and problems; presenting the local program to the federal government as being something it is not.
- No pathway to U.S. citizenship for long-term foreign contract workers.
Cases of abuse happen across the country, said Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala. The civil rights organization currently represents stateside temporary foreign workers in eight class-action lawsuits.
Bauer testified to Congress last month that major changes to the federal program for temporary foreign workers are needed.
"Guest workers are systematically exploited because the very structure of the program places them at the mercy of a single employer," she said. "It provides no realistic means for workers to exercise the few rights they have."
Guam barracks 2009, photo by Pacific Daily News