Bellas on the Garment Workers Trust Fund

January 28, 2010


Attorney Tim Bellas gave some snappy answers to questions from a Saipan Tribune reporter concerning the distribution of the remaining funds in the Garment Workers Trust Fund. He claimed that attorneys took most of the $20 million settlement fees from the class action garment lawsuit.

In a "telephone interview" Bellas singled out Attorney Pam Brown as receiving $240,000, which is far less than the standard one-third in settlement claims that most attorneys earn.

The Tribune reported:
Bellas said he was not involved in the class action, but that his recollection from the pleadings is that the lawyers representing the garment workers got almost $8 million. Bellas said a lawyer told him that Brown got $240,000 as one of the workers' then local counsels.

Bellas said the Gilardi people also got $800,000 just to distribute the 29,000 checks to the workers. As claims administrator, Gilardi & Co. was tasked to distribute the checks to the workers.

“I'm just holding the money. I'm only responsible to the court to make sure it doesn't get misspent,” he said.
A lawyer "told him" so he repeats it to the paper. Classy. (Not!)

The Tribune also reported that after the charities learned that the workers would be filing a temporary restraining order and a notice for a preliminary injunction to stop the fund from distributing the remaining funds, the charities rushed to pick up their checks.

A
previous post I wrote on December 8, 2009 links to the fund's court documents and breaks down the settlement. From the post:
According to court documents, a total of 1,313 persons filed applications to seek funds from the Garment Worker Trust Fund's hardship-based assistance program. Of those, 991 of the applications were requests for monetary assistance to meet daily living expenses due to adverse economic conditions; 63 of the applications requested repatriation assistance to return to their country of origin; 44 of the applications requested for medical assistance; and 215 of the applications were submitted through the CNMI Department of Labor and the Office of the Federal Ombudsman, on behalf of garment workers with unpaid wages who are still located within CNMI.
Concerning the 991 applications for monetary assistance to meet daily living expenses the document states:
...the trustees do not believe that assistance for general and daily living expenses meets the criteria of the type of hardship for which the applications were originally solicited. Therefore, these applications were all denied.
A footnote states:
The requests in this category were varied but generally consisted of funds because of reduced working hours, reduced income for other reasons, assistance with child support, even though there was no explanation why the other parent was not supporting the child or what efforts, if any, effort were made to have the non custodial parent provide support.
It makes no sense to me that they would deny the former garment workers' requests and instead elect to give the $500,000-plus remaining funds to charity.

The 215 former garment workers who are owed back wages may need to get attorneys to collect all of the money that is owed to them if they don't have one already.

Judge Alex Munson approved the fund's proposal to pay $72,250 to some of the garment workers who still have unpaid wages and remain in the CNMI. These are the individuals who have been referred by the Ombudsman Office and the CNMI DOL. They will not receive the amount of their back wages, but will be given a "donation" of $350. Every one of the workers are owed back wages of over $350.

Where are the garment companies and bonding companies. Have the bonding companies ever paid back wages to cheated workers?

As far as repatriation, the trustees agreed that repatriation is a consistent and pervasive theme of the Settlement Agreement and agreed to pay their tickets to their place of origin and give each of the 66 former garment workers $100 in travel expenses for a total of $65,300.

Many of the requests for funds for medical care were incomplete as to the medical condition according to court documents. They were conditionally approved subject to additional needed information being provided in a timely manner. The document states that only 11 former garment workers met the stipulated deadline.

In January 1999, the law firm of Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP and other law firms, on behalf of some garment workers, sued several garment factories on Saipan, alleging that the garment workers were subjected to sweatshop conditions. After a few years, the class action lawsuit was settled.

As a result of the settlement, the Garment Oversight Board was established in 2003 and closed in October 2008. The remaining funds were then transferred to the Garment Workers Trust Fund.

Under the $20 million settlement the money was divided like this:
  • $8.75 million would go to plaintiffs' lawyers
  • $5.8 million: cash payments to the workers;
  • $4.0 million for a monitoring fund to prevent the harm previously caused by the industry to the workers;
  • $565,254.80 for a trust fund that would be administered by the non-profit Tides Foundation for the court action before the California Superior Court;
  • $500,000: to pay the claims administrator of the distribution fund; and
  • $400,000; repatriation fund for garment workers.
It appears that the plaintiff's lawyers were the ones who gained the most from the lawsuit. The establishment of a Garment Oversight Board that was charged with seeing that laws were followed in the garment factories seems like it should have been beneficial to the workers. However, abuses continued despite the "oversight."

Many of the cheated garment workers never saw a cent of money from the settlement because the checks never reached them. The un-cashed settlement checks went into the trust fund.

Some former garment workers are wondering why the remaining money estimated at over $500,000, will be given to "charities" when there are still hundreds of former garment workers in the CNMI who could use that money to help themselves and their families. If not having enough food to eat is not a hardship, what is?

In August 2009 Bellas suggested that the U.S. Congress should reimburse the cheated garment workers. From the Saipan Tribune:
The chairman of the Garment Workers Trust Fund said the U.S. Congress should help former garment workers who have been affected by the shutdown of the garment industry in the CNMI.

“Why not ask the federal government to appropriate some money for the workers since they are so interested in our garment industry and they want to do the right thing by the workers that have left?” said trust fund chair Timothy H. Bellas.

The former Superior Court judge said part of the problem is the change in the U.S. law, which caused the closure of the CNMI garment industry.

“So if these [alien workers] find themselves without an employer, why can't the U.S. Congress do a one-time special appropriation for them?” Bellas said.

The trust fund chairman suggested that the workers or the government go to U.S. Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-MP) and ask him to work for the one-time special appropriation.
Why should U.S. taxpayers pay the back wages of cheated workers that the unscrupulous garment factories and useless bonding companies refused to pay? Why would U.S. taxpayers be expected to support displaced garment workers when there was actually money left in the fund that is being given to charities.

Billing Records for attorneys fees were attached to the court documents. The draft for a letter to the editor written by Bellas and published in the Saipan Tribune on July 17, 2009 cost $495.00. That's more than the "donation" given to the cheated workers.

A July 2009 letter to the editor from a Chinese garment worker, Chun Yu Wang, claimed that she was owed between $1,500 to $2,000 in unpaid overtime. The amount she received from the lawsuit came to only $220.

She stated:
I request, therefore, that in order that justice be served in this ongoing, 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, sir, it simply offers us justice.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

$8.7 million out of a $20 million lawsuit to the lawyers. This is legalized robbery. I sure would like to see the list of lawyers involved in this.

Anonymous said...

$8.2 million was set aside for lawyers fees. However, Judge Munson denied may of the billings and in fact, Millberg Weiss, the lead firm, took no fees. Bellas and the rest of the garment oversight board make over $100,000 per annum for their involvement as board members with Bellas also charging fees for administering a fund that he oversees. Smell like conflict cheese to anyone.

Anonymous said...

I am embarrassed that Bellas is a fellow Rotarian. This certainly fails the 4-way test. Is it the truth? Is it fair to all?

Anonymous said...

Get over it. These folks weren't part of the original class of plaintiffs. They have no right to it. Congrats to the worthy charities that received the funds.

Anonymous said...

Get over it. These folks weren't part of the original class of plaintiffs. They have no right to it. Congrats to the worthy charities that received the funds.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:27 a.m.

Hello!!! Excuse me, why do you think these folks will protest if they are not owed money? They're not that ignorant to lose their faces for false claims. Do you know them? Have you been in their shoes to feel how it is to be cheated and hope one day that the money will be collected? You are of the same league with Fitial saying, "they are illegal aliens". Do not GENERALIZE!!!!

Anonymous said...

11:27

You're an a$$ Ye, some of the protesters were involved in the original lawsuit.