Parents of U.S. citizen children sue CNMI Department of Labor

May 13, 2009


Two parents of U.S. citizen children are suing the CNMI Department of Labor because the department "volunteer", Deanne Siemer denied their request for an extension to find new employers.   CNMI Labor law stipulates that only DOL administrative hearing officers can approve or deny transfer relief according to Attorney Stephen Woodruff who is representing the women.  

According to the Saipan Tribune:
In their petition for judicial review filed in the Superior Court, Alava and Cordero also questioned the signature in the orders denying their appeal. According to them, the signature was that of somebody other than Labor Secretary Gil M. San Nicolas.

Woodruff asked the court to set aside the decision and ordered a briefing schedule for processing the appeal.

Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman set a status conference for May 28, 2009 at 1:30pm.

Alava is an ex-Onwell Garment employee and has lived and worked in the CNMI for over 15 years. She has a 13-year-old Saipan-born daughter.

Cordero has lived and worked in the CNMI for many years. She has a 2-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son, both U.S. citizens.

As a result of the shutdown of the local garment industry and economic downturn, Alava and Cordero lost their jobs.

Woodruff said the two were unable to find new employers within the 30-day period required by Labor.

Woodruff said that Labor's policy and practice allow for an extension of time to transfer upon a showing of sufficient legal or equitable grounds to justify it.

The lawyer said Alava and Cordero filed with Labor a request for additional time to transfer on July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2008.

Woodruff said that on July 14, 2008, Labor issued virtually identical orders denying the workers' requests for extension of time to transfer. He said Siemer signed the orders “for” Labor administrative hearing officer Jerry Cody.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Labor Secretary.

Woodruff said that on March 19, 2009, the Labor Secretary executed two documents affirming the denials. He said the two orders are virtually identical or “copycats” of each other, save for the name of the workers.

The lawyer pointed out that the form of the signature on these documents suggests they were actually signed by someone other than San Nicolas.

Woodruff said the orders contain no discussion of the situation or the plaintiffs' circumstances, no citations of authority, and no analysis of the facts or the law.
The lawsuit raises some questions. How can a government agency have a "volunteer" acting in an official capacity in the department? Doesn't that raise legal questions?  Is the volunteer status meant to provide protection from lawsuits?  Did Attorney Woodruff sue just DOL or also the "volunteer"? 

This news comes less than a month after DOL Deputy Secretary Kaipat announced that she is "helping nonresidents with U.S. citizen children in getting transfer extensions."  In the last Interim Progress Report Kaipat claimed that nonresident workers with U.S. citizen children were given consideration by the department in finding a new employer. From the April 21, 2009 Saipan Tribune:
Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat said they are helping alien workers who have U.S. citizen children in getting transfer extensions.

In her progress report on the implementation of the Labor Reform Law, Kaipat said on occasion they give transfer extensions to alien workers who are in “hardship cases.”

“For example, the parents would be required to take their U.S. citizen children out of school near the end of the school term,” Kaipat said.

She said they also sometimes give transfer extensions to skilled workers whose prospective employers need time to get the transfer papers together and secure the necessary bonding.
I guess there are different policies within the department?

This is not the first time Deanne Siemer has been accused of denying due process at the Department of Labor.  In 2007, Ms. Siemer's routine denial of due process to guest workers who were referred by the Labor Ombudsman's office was questioned. The fact that she worked as a "volunteer" hearing officer and also as the governor's legal counsel was also questioned. Siemer attacked a report the Federal Ombudsman wrote in  a memorandum under the title of "Counsel of the Governor" while she was a "volunteer" hearing officer.  From the Saipan Tribune:
A lawyer has issued a memorandum backing the governor's complaints about alleged bias in the federal ombudsman's March 2006 report on CNMI labor and immigration.

Deanne C. Siemer, a private attorney, criticized Federal Ombudsman James Benedetto for failing to give local government officials the opportunity to comment on the report he submitted to U.S. Congress last year about the CNMI's labor situation.

Siemer said Benedetto's report “fails to meet minimal requirements of professionalism which can be reasonably expected of lawyers working for the federal government.” She said the report did not explain properly the work of the Ombudsman's Office and its mandate.

She said the report should have focused on his office's work on the most recent year, rather than including facts and allegations from a period of more than several years.

She also said data were not presented in an organized manner, preventing the reader from making an independent and fair judgment of the progress during the past year by the Ombudsman and the CNMI government.

Furthermore, Siemer accused Benedetto of bias against the CNMI government and its personnel.

“Mr. Benedetto has been campaigning publicly and aggressively for federalization of the Commonwealth's immigration and labor laws, although such lobbying does not seem to be within the mandate of the Federal Ombudsman's Office.

“This may explain, but does not excuse, the lack of objectivity in his report. It fails to present facts fairly and accurately. It has difficulty in separating fact from personal opinion. And, too often, the Federal Ombudsman resorts to inflammatory rhetoric that seems wholly out of place in a federal government document commenting on important public issues,” Siemer said.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial submitted Siemer's memorandum in a letter to U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior David Cohen. The letter was a follow up on his request for the Interior Department to provide the CNMI government with an opportunity to comment on Benedetto's future reports to Congress.

A copy of the letter and memorandum was also sent to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who will visit the CNMI next week.
Then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Insular Affairs David Cohen was quoted in another Saipan Tribune story:
“I would have to say, with respect, that Ms. Siemer's assertions about the Ombudsman's Report are not persuasive. The Ombudsman’s Report is fair and balanced. It points out many positive developments and is also candid about the challenges that remain,” Cohen said in an email to the Saipan Tribune.

“I think people will agree with me that Jim told it the way it was and produced a very informative report,” Cohen said.

According to Cohen, the administration's response to the Ombudsman's report may be a case of “shooting the messenger,” but it is understandable.

“I think that what's going on here is that there's a feeling of being under siege, and hence some people are interpreting things like the Ombudsman’s Report as being much more negative than they really are. I don’t blame people for feeling under siege because things are going on in Washington and in the world economy that will, one way or another, fairly or unfairly, positively or negatively, have a profound impact on the CNMI.

“In times like this, people may instinctively react by shooting the messenger rather than resolving to work together to address the problem. People seem to fear that if they acknowledge the obvious-that there are still problems in the CNMI-they will somehow undermine their arguments against federalization.
Siemer is often at odds with anyone who points out the deficiencies in the CNMI labor system or anyone who supports federalization.  She even defended the fact that for decades the DOL has failed to enforce its own administrative orders with unpaid judgments and has refused to force bonding companies to pay cheated employees what they are owed when their employers fail to pay.  In a response to a class action suit filed by Attorney Robert Meyers on behalf of over one hundred cheated workers, Siemer was quoted by the Saipan Tribune:
Siemer denied that the Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007 provides that Labor is responsible for collection of awards made in the administrative orders that Labor issues in cases filed by alien workers against employers.

Siemer denied that the Nonresident Workers Act and its predecessors have any force and effect as they were repealed by the Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007.

She also denied that the Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007 requires Labor to issue any notice of claim to any bonding company.

Under the Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007, the special counsel said, Labor has no power to act against bonding companies.

Licensing and regulatory authority, she pointed out, is vested in the Department of Commerce.
In March 2009, the Superior Court ruled that the jurisdiction to collect bonds was the responsibility of the Department of Labor.  In the 8th Interim Labor Report Kaipat states:
The Superior Court has ruled that we must treat these defaults under the old Nonresident Worker Act, and we are taking steps right now to put into place a procedure to deal with this. I will have a further report for you on this subject in a few weeks.
Well?

7 comments:

the teacher said...

:)

:)

:)

Anonymous said...

:0

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Anonymous said...

Where in the world can someone volunteer in a gvt. agency and be given authority to hear cases? It is absolutely unheard of. What is their motive? Tax breaks? Boredom? Retire already. Look at that photo! Retire and spare us anymore craziness.

David said...

If I understand the series of events described by Wendy correctly , Deanne Siemer is completely out of control and a very dangerous person. How can a "volunteer" execute documents on behalf of hearing office Cody? Her opinion that DOL has no authority to enforce the decisions/orders of its own hearing officers renders the whole system of resolving disputes between employers and employees a meaningless exercise in futility. Whatever she says or spins,the fact remains a Superior Court Judge has ruled that the Superior Court lacks jurisdiction to enforce DOL orders and two nonresident mother's of US citizens are about to be sent back to the Republic of the Philippines because of the callous acts of this ethically challenged volunteer! The ladies in this matter probably would have been deported already had they not had the resources to obtain the services of an attorney. I hope that the compassionate words of Cinta Kaipat have some impact on the outcome. Someone at DOL has to rein in Deanne Seimer before the reputation of the CNMI is totally ruined.

Anonymous said...

"before the reputation of the CNMI is totally ruined." Where have you been these past 10 years? At the movies?

Anonymous said...

David

I don't think someone can rein in Deanna Siemer. She is the one holding the reins in the DOL.

Anonymous said...

Do Siemer and Kaipat think no one will call them on their lies and schemes? They are out of control.