CNMI Department of Labor On Bonding Claims

December 15, 2009


The CNMI Department of Labor claims to have "completed its processing of unpaid wage claims from 2008 to all prior years."

Earlier this year, the department issued a "public notice" after the court ruled that DOL was responsible for collecting bond claims.

In July 2009, Attorney Robert Meyers accused DOL of playing monkey games in requiring workers to register at their offices. Mr. Meyers is representing 127 cheated workers in trying to collect their unpaid wages through bonding companies.

DOL will have addressed every claim only after every cheated worker has received his/her unpaid wages. The department has allowed many cheated worker to be repatriated without collecting the unpaid wages as evidenced in the department's administrative orders and judgments.

In a three-page press release Kaipat bragged that the claims that they collected came to under $450,000:
However, there never was a total of $6.1 million in unpaid wage claims as was publicized many, many times over in the press, Kaipat emphasized. That total was never correct, Kaipat explained.
Untrue! That total absolutely is correct. The $6.1 million in unpaid wage claims that were collected from December 2007 until early 2008 by the Federal Ombudsman Office, labor advocates, and myself were all valid, documented claims that were accompanied by a copy of a court order or a DOL-issued Administrative Order. The collection was initiated at a request from the U.S. Congress who was concerned that so many workers had been cheated and were being returned to their homelands without receiving money that DOL had awarded them in judgments.

In fact, it is odd that Kaipat is actually bragging that far fewer of the cheated workers showed up at the DOL to file a claim then the number who submitted original copies of administrative orders to the Ombudsman's Office. This illustrates that the cheated workers: 1. were repatriated without receiving their unpaid wages, 2. failed to see the notice, or 3. decided that it was of no use to go back to the same department that initially refused to enforce their judgments only to be toyed with again.

Additionally, publishing a notice represents a denial of due process. How many of the cheated workers even saw the notice? Certainly not the ones that have returned to their homelands with empty pockets.

Wouldn't it have made sense if the department had gone after the employers and the bonding companies within 30 days of issuing the administrative orders and judgments instead of trying to accomplish that task years or a decade or more later?

What kind of faulty record keeping system is there at DOL? Why would a worker need to register that they have unpaid wages when the DOL was the agency that issued the orders and judgments? They obviously didn't bother to keep records of when, and if, the cheated workers actually received the monetary judgments that the department itself issued.

Only after judgments are paid should a case be considered "closed."

Furthermore, to get up to $6.1 million in unpaid judgments shows that justice for the cheated employees was not a consideration and that the routine theft of wages was accepted.

Kaipat made this statement:
Extra time to earn
If a claim is uncollectible, then the worker who has made the claim cannot use that claim as a basis for remaining in the Commonwealth. However, Kaipat explained that the umbrella permit system essentially allows these workers – whose claims can never be collected – to have an extra chance to work in the Commonwealth to recoup their losses.
“Under the normal system, these workers with uncollectible claims would be repatriated,” Kaipat said. “However, their umbrella permit gives them repayment of a kind, in that they are allowed to remain in the Commonwealth, which is what they would like to do, and to continue to seek work for an extra period of time. This is a way of meeting, in some part, any inequity in the system in the past.” The Labor Department discussed this aspect of the umbrella permit system with representatives of foreign worker groups, and it was agreed that if the claims were totally uncollectible, an opportunity to “earn it back” would be the next best thing that could be offered to affected workers.
The chance to stay in the CNMI and look for a job where there are very few is by no means "an effective way of meeting, in some part, any inequity in the system in the past." The DOL and CNMI government is in large part responsible for the inequity by refusing to maintain records and enforce its own laws. How is working in a new job (if one can even be found) "earning it back?" Working in a new job would be earning only for that particular job. Unless cheated workers are paid in full what the cheating employers stole from them, they will never be paid back!

The DOL system is an unjust system that for decades has put the burden of recovering unpaid judgments on the victims. The bonding and insurance companies also neglected their lawful obligation to pay the workers when the employers defaulted on the judgments. The DOL allowed the workers to be cheated and the employers to walk. They have repeatedly claimed they maintain a list of "barred employers", but they refuse to disclose any such list.

This most recent Kaipat press release was issued for the purpose of fulfilling the Fitial Administration's quest to maintain the broken CNMI labor system.

CNMI Labor News: Two interesting items to ponder
Judge Inos: DOL not courts should enforce bonds
Class Action suit filed against DOL
CNMI Labor News
Class action suit against the CNMI Department of Labor

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone with half a brain believe anything that Cinta Kaipat says!

The only positive thing she did as a legislator was to clean up beaches and tell people to throw their used diapers and bud cans in plastic bags. There are a lot of people who could do that and one doesn't need a law degree and an election certificate to the House of Representatives to clean up another person's trash!

Things really went South for Cinta when she was given a position at DOL which required some brain power. Hooking up with Deanne didn't help her much and probably made the situation more difficult for her. Everyone knew that Deanne did the heavy lifting!

Not to worry , however. She will get another great job in the Fitial administration where incompetency is highly valued.I know of no other administration that rewards stupidity and poor decision making as much as the current one.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the Transition Team leaders in todays Tribune. All uneducated, failed businessmen, and poor decision makers. As Ed says.... another load of re-cycled uselessness. No wonder the smart ones are leaving this place.

the teacher said...

Registration Day

Our compliments to the Ombudspersons office under direction of the US Department of the Interior for conducting a successful alien worker registration and we are excited to learn that over ten thousand guest workers have registered in the first 2 days, which is as impressive as the Unity March!

Immigration reform was introduced in the US House yesterday, but I think it is a fallback plan for CNMI workers at best and may not pass, especially in the original form. President Obama promised reform, but it will have many opponents, especially from the rust belt region paralyzed by globalization and facing catastrophic unemployment and economic depression. Democrats may not choose to fight this battle before 2010 elections.

The US should take note, that while 10k NMI workers have registered in 2 days, a petition to improve their immigration status is weeks old and has been passed around online, but still has only 2k signatures, many of which are anonymous. We can conclude that workers are apprehensive about publicly signing their name on anything that could be used against them by the notorious CNMI DOL. CNMI guest workers have lacked legal protections in the past, they have a history of abysmal representation, and workers justifiably fear backlash from the devious leadership of the CNMI labor department as three reasons a non-citizen may choose not to sign the online petition. The 2k signatures on the petition are as full of anonymous listings as the Saipan blogs. Many workers may FEAR signing the petition because the CNMI DOL has used threats, coercion, and intimidation as a scare tactics and CGW’s know that these characters running our labor department have made examples of independent thinking workers in the past.

The Governor was reported to say he would now like to work with the federal government, while insisting that the CNMI can run labor better than the US. The intent of federalization was to end the international story of labor abuse and human exploitation in the Northern Mariana Islands. The US will NEVER consider returning labor control to the NMI during this generation. Perhaps the Governors efforts would be better directed to focus his lobby experience to support Delegate Sablan’s initiatives, or utilize our CIP funding, or developing a US federal jobs training center or school based in the NMI to train local citizens for CBP, labor, immigration, TSA, and law enforcement positions in the Marianas, which the US will have difficulty filling in our remote location.

Again, we can conclude that trust and confidentiality secured by the Ombudspersons office is the direct cause for such a remarkable registration turnout. The perseverance of all supporters of social justice in the CNMI is commendable and to quote President Obama, “…for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.”

Ron Hodges
Saipan

Anonymous said...

It's scary that for Cinta, everything keeps coming back to alien workers trying to game the system. Unpaid wage awards? Oh, the workers waited to long to try to collect. Few responses to DOL's notice? Oh, that's because the $6.1 million in unpaid awards never existed. This is blaming the victim, and it sounds a lot like the Nazi propaganda against the Jews in the years before WWII. Cinta, like Hitler, has mythologized the victimhood of the oppressors as a justification for stripping the target group of whatever rights it still possesses. And as her ghostwriter propagandist knows, if you repeat the "big lie" often enough, most people will begin to believe it.

captain said...

Why do the names of the people that sign the petition have to be posted. It should be a petition sent directly to who ever is supposed to receive it to work the appropriate committee.
I think that by posting the names it makes it comprehensible for many people including the Govt workers that support this petition.

It sure will get them fired by putting them on them in the first wave of Govt layoffs in the next few months.
Everybody is scared of the dictator especially his family and his closest allies.

Anonymous said...

Let me pose a hypothetical:

A worker filed a Labor case against his employer for unpaid wages ten years ago and got an order awarding him $1000.

The employer never paid it, and has since gone out of business. The bonding company also never paid it, and has also gone out of business.

Who should pay the worker now:

The CNMI government?
The US government?
The worker's home country government?
Some other employer?
Some other bonding company?
Nobody (i.e. the worker takes the loss)?
None of the above?

I welcome any comments and suggestions.

Bonus question: Who should pay the interest?

Anonymous said...

Captain - The online petition records everyones name...and that is why so many are nonis.

Noni above - Lost money, wheter bet in the stock market or at the casino is gone and not coming back. We should prosecute all of our bonding companies here though, especially the crooked foreigners like Royal Crown.

Wendy said...

Anonymous

DOL has maintained a system that perpetuates the exploitation of workers and promotes theft of wages. Otherwise, the thousands of unpaid judgments would have been enforced in a timely and just manner. After an administrative order and judgment was issued DOL should have had a deadline (say 30 days) for the employer to pay the employee. After that time period expired, DOL should have contacted the bonding company to pay the judgment. If the bonding company defaulted (say after 30 days), then DOL could have notified the Department of Commerce to suspend their license and could have referred the case to the CNMI AG for prosecution. DOL should have had a record keeping system to track when and if the judgments were or were not paid by the employers or bonding companies. If DOL had enforced their own laws, or had a decent record keeping system, then there would never have been millions in unpaid wages.

All of the companies and employers who cheated workers did not go bankrupt. All of the bonding companies did not fold. It is DOL that perpetuated the system that allowed thousands of workers to be cheated and thousands of cheating employers to walk.

Who should pay you ask. Of course, the employer should pay and then the bonding company if the employer is bankrupt. Maybe the CNMI government and DOL should be sued for not enforcing their own judgments and letting hundreds of employers and the bonding companies walk while the cheated workers suffered. I am not an attorney and do not even know if there even is anyway to collect the money now.

It seems DOL didn't even check to see if the employers could afford to hire foreign workers before issuing permits. How did so many employers walk away from their financial and legal obligations to their workers? Can their property be seized and sold to pay the cheated employers? Can they be thrown in prison? Perhaps if the laws were enforced and had some teeth people would think twice about cheating honest workers.

the wise man said...

The status quo Covenant supporters are coming out in numbers in the Variety comment section with their message of madness masked in anonimity.

Anonymous said...

Anon

Your hypothetical is a good one that shows just how dysfunctional and broken the system was under DOL.

The employer of the worker who was awarded $1000 would have been ordered to pay the money to Labor, not the worker, by a date certain. The order would normally have a penalty in it for not making timely payment, such as liquidated damages in an equal amount, which would automatically be added if the employer failed to pay. Since the money is paid to Labor, the worker has no choice but to go back to Labor again and again, usually to be told that the employer hadn't left anything for the worker.

Labor was also required to notify the bonding company of a potential claim within 10 days of the complaint being filed. If the employer failed to pay, the bonding company was on the hook for the money, which was due on demand by Labor. Again, it was Labor's responsibility to follow up.

If the employer and the bonding company didn't pay, then there was a special account funded by $25 from every permit application and renewal that was supposed to cover the back wages and repatriation for a worker in that situation. Once Labor figured out the worker wasn't going to get paid by the employer or the bonding company, the worker should have been offered the option of applying for payment from the fund. P.L. 15-38 did away with this fund, by the way.

If the employer and bonding company simply ignored Labor's orders, Labor also could get the AG to sue the worker and bonding company in court, to enforce its judgments. This almost never happened.

And one more thing: Labor was required to freeze the permit applications and renewals of any employer who failed to make good on their obligations. If the employer persisted in not paying, Labor could bar the employer from ever using alien workers again.

These safeguards were built into the system by the Legislature over the years, and they were perfectly adequate to prevent any worker from leaving the CNMI without their money, IF LABOR EVER INTENDED TO ENFORCE THE LAW.

Anonymous said...

Or if Labor ever had employees skilled enough to do so and the resources to hire attorneys to do the legal work.

There have never been close to enough attorneys to do the work, though most of the employers are likely judgment-proof, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering when Cinta will stop being a clown!

Captain said...

A perfect example; Look at the outgoing Tinian Mayor and his many present and failed Business ventures over the years with labor complaints and judgment orders.If my memory is correct, he has lost all labor complaints and was ordered to reinstate some workers, pay overtime, back wages, fines etc. He has never been refused renewals or hires for his operating business' and do not know how many, if any, judgments were paid.

Follow the Money said...

Maybe we should ask Interior to get funding for Federal Labor Ombudsman Pamela S. Brown to hire two attorneys to pursue those judgments and cases that might still be collectable.

Anonymous said...

MAybe the US government should sue the CNMI DOL on behalf of the cheated workers

Armchair Lawyer said...

There is no legal basis for the federal government to sue the CNMI government for unpaid contract workers.

The feds have no more legal “standing” to sue the CNMI than they do to sue states like California for the many more tens or hundreds of millions of unpaid labor claims there.

The only way for these workers to be made whole would be for the U.S. Congress to pass a special appropriation for the relief of defrauded or abused CNMI workers.

But instead of seeking such reparations, it is much more politically advantageous (and more likely of success) to demand a status change first.

captain said...

Wasn't there in the past a large number of checks and tickets that was "found" at DOL that dated back many years and an effort was supposed to have been made to deliver and up date the "expired checks and tickets. What ever happened to that? I vaguely remember that, I think I was gone at that time.