CNMI Labor News

August 1, 2009

Federal Judge orders Department of Labor to issue transfers

U.S. District Court Judge Alex Munson ruled that three security guards must be given temporary work permits until their labor case against their employer is heard. Their case was filed in February 2009 against Triple K known as Global Security Agency for failure to pay wages set by the Fair Labor Standards Act and for breach of contract.

Judge Munson's Order states:
Plaintiffs move for an Order directing the Department of Labor for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, to allow Plaintiffs to remain in the Commonwealth and to seek and to obtain employment in the Commonwealth pending the resolution of their claims in this case. Plaintiffs appeared by and through their attorney Mr. Bruce Berline. Other parties had notice but made no appearance.

Representatives of the Commonwealth Department of Labor have previously appeared in Court and expressed no objection to allowing parties to a lawsuit to remain and work in the Commonwealth pending the resolution of the parties’ action. However, the representatives have expressed that they need an Order to document their files.
Munson's order allows the plaintiffs to "seek and obtain from the Commonwealth Department of Labor temporary work permits, to be valid for six months from date of issuance or until this matter has been resolved in this court, whichever occurs first."

As far as the statement that the CNMI DOL representatives "have expressed that they need an Order to document their files" I am glad to hear that DoL is keeping files. Maybe they can figure out how many foreign workers are actually in the CNMI, how many judgments are outstanding, and other useful data that basic record keeping could help to provide.

Fital lifts ban on CUC hiring
The Saipan Tribune reports that Governor Fitial issued a 15-page execuitive order lifting the ban on the hiring of skilled CUC workers. CUC is in need of 19 skilled workers to fill positions after the Aggreko contract ends September 10, 2009. Positions include sanitarians, engineers, accountants, information technology specialists, mechanics, electricians, well-drillers, pipe fitters, plumbers, wastewater treatment facilities operators, and other trades technicians.

From the Tribune:
Fitial said the Legislature has not passed the bill despite CUC's request for immediate legislation.

“There is no alternative to providing this immediate relief other than an order from the governor. Inaction will produce a disaster in which CUC is unable to provide its critical community services,” Fitial said in his Executive Order 2009-07.

Specific hiring details will be handled by CUC's human resources office and not the Office of the Governor.

Fitial's executive order extending anew the emergency declaration for CUC also formally recognizes the decision not to extend Aggreko's contract when it expires on Sept. 12.

CUC said a major challenge to carrying out its rehabilitation of power plants will be finding as soon as possible the eight more mechanics and eight more operators who are needed to carry out this project and run the equipment.

For months, CUC has tried to hire diesel mechanics in the CNMI, but has been unsuccessful in finding all the qualified candidates.

For example, CUC has identified 16 potential new staff after interviews - seven mechanics, one welder, one machinist, and seven operators. But only two of the candidates are U.S. citizens.
Until residents of the CNMI can receive formal or on-the-job training in technical, industrial, technology and other specialized trades and fields there will always be a need for foreigners to fill skilled positions.

More workers to file labor complaints?
Guest workers who are owed back wages held a meeting with Attorney Stephen Woodruff to discuss ways to collect the money owed to them by former employers. The Marianas Variety reported:
In his meeting with the United Workers Movement, NMI members on Sunday, Woodruff said he will be employing different approaches in pursuing the case of the nonresident guest workers.

He said his approach is different from that of Atty. Robert Myers, who filed a class-suit representing over 130 guest workers to the court demanding the secretary of the Department of Labor to enforce the mandated law to collect unpaid wages from their employers or bonding companies.

Woodruff said he will directly file the complaint to the Labor Department.

On June 17, Associate Judge David A. Wiseman granted the workers’ request for an order to the Labor Director to issue Temporary Work Authorization to each worker, pending a review of their lawsuit.

The order covers the 127 guest workers that Myers represent.

“What Myers is doing is very good and very important. The work he has done to help workers has made a lot of difference. But it take more than one lawyers fighting to solve this problem,” Woodruff said.

He said while he got a positive feedback from the workers in the meeting there’s a need to have a collaborative approach by pooling all the resources available.

In this litigation, Woodruff said his office will be collecting $100 from each worker for paper works, filing, copying, rental, utilities and legal services.

Although he admitted it would be a burden to the guest workers “we cannot function without money.”W.L. Doromal ©2009
L & T Claims Settlement Not Admission of Guilt
L & T attorney Steve Pixley said that the $1.7 million in settlement fees paid to EEOC for alleged discrimination cases were not an admission of guilt and that the cases arose from "downsizing".

I doubt it. I interviewed dozens of the workers involved in these EEOC cases and they certainly appeared to have strong cases that proved discrimination.

From the Saipan Tribune:
EEOC acting chair Stuart J. Ishimaru said “the resolutions of the cases bring a measure of justice to the many workers who were retaliated against and otherwise victimized by discriminatory employment practices because of their national origin, age, or pregnancy.”

Pixley said the sensational allegations contained in the EEOC's press release constitute allegations that were denied by L&T in court pleadings.

Pixley said the apparel industry no longer exists in the CNMI as all garment factories have closed their doors.

These EEOC cases, the lawyer said, arose out of the downsizing of garment manufacturing operations in the CNMI.

“In futile effort to continue its garment manufacturing operations in Saipan, the company was compelled to make difficult decisions regarding its personnel,” he said.

Pixley said there was never any intent to discriminate against any employee on the basis of race, national origin or any other factor.

“In fact, the company has an extremely diversified workforce. Many key executives, for example, are from the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.

The Philippine government has repeatedly recognized L&T “as one of the outstanding employers of Philippine overseas workers.”
The Philippine government turns a blind eye to abuses all over the world to enrich their coffers. Additionally, L &T operates in the Philippines where U.S. laws do not apply. Where was the Philippine government when the abuse cases were happening to their nationals in the CNMI? Did the consulate help them? Did they support the claims of the workers and encourage them to file cases with EEOC? See this post for more on the EEOC case and settlement.