Garment Worker's Trust Fund Concern

July 17, 2009

A letter that I received yesterday very clearly demonstrates the injustice that cheated foreign contract workers face in the CNMI. If an employer owes a worker a sum of money, then the just thing to do would be to ensure that the worker receives the money owed with interest. It seems that a good attorney would sue for the actual funds owed, interest and his or her fees. What has happened in this case? How much money was recovered? How was it dispersed and how much has gone to attorney's fees? If there is a trust fund, why aren't the workers given what is owed to them?

The unscrupulous employers, whether factories, security companies, or individual business owners, have inflicted damage to thousands of innocent and trusting foreign workers and to the reputation of the CNMI and the United States. When cheated workers try to recover their money, why is it such a big problem? Why is is so difficult to receive justice in the CNMI? Is it more important to defend a broken system then to ensure workers are treated fairly?

Whenever someone speaks of the labor abuses a familiar comment is, "that is old new" and usually the messenger is attacked. It will be news until the cheated workers get the compensation that is owed to them. Just by claiming that "the case is closed" does not make it so. If DOL "closes" a case and the cheated worker still has not received the judgment that is owed, then the case is open and the discussion will continue just as the case with the thousands of cheated garment workers.

I hope that Chu Young Wang and the hundreds of others that she represents get what is owed to them.

Here is the letter that has put into word the frustrating experience that so many have had to endure in the CNMI:

To: Timothy H. Bellas, Trust Fund Chair, Garment Workers Trust Fund, Saipan
From: Chun Yu Wang, Contact: PO BOX 503991, Saipan MP, 96950
Re: Application for Compensation from Garment Workers Trust Fund
Summary: Insufficient Compensation from Original Class Action Suit Settlement

CC: Saipan Tribune, Marianas Variety, Ruth Tighe, Huffington Post, Ms. Magazine
The Office of the Ombudsman, Wendy Doromal, George Miller’s Office

Dear Sir,
I, Chun Yu Wang, was employed at Mirage Garment Factory from February 7, 2000 to August 20, 2001. During that time I, and many others, were routinely denied compensation for time worked. Specifically, after what were often 16-hour days of long, arduous work, we were required to complete our work tickets during non-paid, after-work hours (i.e. on our own time) in order to submit them the next day so we could be paid for our hours. This often amounted to fully two or more hours spent every day for which we were never compensated. It was as a result of such unfair practices, abusive work environments, and living conditions, that others and I opened our original case against Mirage and other garment factories. The total amount of overtime pay I was personally denied during that time was approximately between $1,500 and $2,000.

Almost a full seven years later, after moving on to work at several other garment factories, and under similar conditions, many of us still on island were finally told that our settlement checks for the years of injustice we had suffered had arrived. We were elated, but soon that elation turned to sadness and anger.

Much to my personal disappointment, I received a grand total of only $220.00 after waiting for many years, and having been promised that, as this was the United States of America, we would be compensated justly for the time worked. We took the chance that the time, energy and personal risk involved in bringing the case to the court system would be justified. I was very hopeful that the American justice system would prove sympathetic to our plight. This hope was what kept and still keeps many of us going and suffering the slights and injustice we experience on a daily basis. We felt we had a way to right the wrongs. It’s not clear what formula was used to arrive at the original compensation amounts, but it was obviously not based on un-compensated hours.

What we garment factory workers respect and value most about our opportunity in America is the assurance that people's rights are upheld. We suffer abuse and exploitation, and are taken advantage of, it seems, to enrich lawyers and other entities but we, the workers who actually endure the exploitation, are left still wanting and feel ultimately let down by the system.

Whether we are now experiencing emergencies or not, that money was judged by the legal system to be for the compensation and benefit of contract workers, particularly those who were part of the suit. Many, like myself, who actually brought cases to the court system received less compensation than those who didn’t.

I request, therefore, that in order that justice be served in this on-going, still painful and relevant matter, that I, and others who have been similarly shortchanged by our settlement checks be awarded our fair and just compensation through the Garment Workers Trust Fund in lieu of any such funds being diverted to “charity.” As long as there is a single garment worker remaining who has endured such a plight, the fund should feel obligated to fulfill its intended purpose and disburse compensation until it is depleted. This is the fair thing to do.

Such compensation does not offer us comfort or luxury, it offers us simply justice.

Chun Yu Wang

This letter was translated for Chun Yu Wang by Walt F.J. Goodridge

Comments may be directed to PO BOX 503991, SAIPAN MP 96950


UPDATE:
Attorney Bellas sent this letter to the editor in response to a previous letter to the editor signed by former garment workers.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wendy:

I feel sorry for the worker who wrote the letter. She certainly deserved better. But the Garment Trust Fund was never supposed to a pot of money to fully compensate every worker with an unpaid judgment. The Fund was originally established to reimburse garment workers who paid recruitment fees in China, then lost their jobs before they had the chance to earn enough to repay those fees. The amount that is now left over is due to the number of checks that were never cashed, because the compensation from the lawsuit was so delayed in getting to the workers. So the Garment Oversight Board came up with a contingency plan that was acceptable to the court for the use of the remaining funds for some very limited purposes.

two sides to every story said...

Take a look at Tim Belas's point of view on this. He sent a response letter to the editors of the Saipan Tribune and the MV Variety.
By the way, Ms. Wang is making money off a book she and Walt wrote regarding the sorid tale of a garment worker on Saipan.

Anonymous said...

Why is it so difficult to receive justice in the CNMI?

Recall that the garment factory class action lawsuit was filed in federal court, not CNMI local court.

To the extent you measure “justce” as the provision of monetary compensation, you have your answer. The CNMI is a poor part of the U.S., among the poorest, the promise of the Covenant about federal assistance in achieving a U.S. standard of living notwithstanding.

Almost every single problem in the CNMI can be traced to lack of money, lack of a viable economy.

There is no money to pay defrauded workers. Most perpetrators are long gone, or bankrupt.

For most, not only is there is no money to pay them, there never will be.

Does that mean the victims are entitled to stay in the CNMI forever?

Anonymous said...

I can think of quite a few that owe big money to contract workers, and who never declared bankruptcy or left the Commonwealth. How about J.G Sablan? How about Island Security Services? How about Benavente Security? Shall we start a list?

Anonymous said...

Bankrupt, insolvent, dissolved -- little difference.

What is the legal status of ISS and BS?

There is a reason lawyers don't take these collection cases, namely, the very small likelihood of recovery.

Mike White has grown rich off his collection practice, so when the possibility of actually collecting something is there, it can be quite lucrative.

In the case of these labor wage claims, the collective wisdom of Saipan's lawyers is that there is no realistic likelihood of success in pursuing them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for proving Wendy's point, anon 7:29.

The CNMI has presided over a system so corrupt that businesses still in operation can't be compelled to pay what they admittedly owe their former workers. The courts kick the ball back to Labor, and Labor claims it doesn't have the authority to enforce the judgments of its hearing office. The lawyers won't take the cases because even if they win in court, they will face years of fraud, concealment of assets, and gamesmanship.

The Chamber and the current administration is correct. This is "old news," which is to say, still no justice for contract workers.

Anonymous said...

You forgot the second half of your post. Your specific solution is?

Other than the general solution of Heinz & federalization, of course, though the latter is already a done deal come Nov. 28, 2009.

Even the U.S. Attorney's Office hasn't been able to do anything in over two decades.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 6:32 am

I wrote what I wanted to write and did not forget anything. Want to read about my specific suggestions for solving problems? Read the letters, reports and testimony I have submitted to Congress since 1992. (Sidebar and embedded in posts on this site)

Anonymous 6:32 AM said...

Sorry, Wendy, I should have been more clear. I was referring to the post immediately above mine, Anonymous 10:56 PM.

David Letterman said...

TOP 10 SPECIFIC SOLUTIONS TO UNPAID JUDGMENTS:

10. Fine employers who don't pay their workers, in addition to having them pay back wages. Then DOL will have a financial incentive to collect the amount owed.

9. Publish the names of deadbeat employers and their businesses, so workers will not apply to work for them, honest businesses will not trade with them, and honest people will shun them.

8. Amend the labor law to make it even more clear that Labor has the responsibility and the power to enforce its judgments.

7. Give the hearing officers the authority to award attorney's fees to successful claimants, so private attorneys will take those cases on contingent fee.

6. Bar deadbeat employers from hiring alien workers FOREVER.

5. Freeze all applications and renewals while claims are pending.

4. Suspend tax rebates for deadbeat employers and their managers, and use their rebates to compensate the workers.

3. Mandate that back wage awards automatically be reduced to civil judgments after six months, allowing workers to go to court and seize deadbeat employers' land, autos, homes and other assets.

2. Deny deadbeat employers business license renewals until they settle their old debts.

1. Hire collection attorney(s) to go after deadbeat employers, and fund their salaries from a portion of the application and renewal fees for work permits.

Wendy said...

Thank you David Letterman!

Anonymous said...

Oh, David Letterman.. your suggestions would expose the 9 major powerful families that generally rule the CNMI.
Nope, can't have that, the whole econmony of the CNMI would collapse.