Garment Workers Protest Trust Fund

January 27, 2010

Some disgruntled former garment workers gathered outside the U.S. District Court to protest the Garment Trust Fund distribution of remaining funds to charitable organizations. About $625,000 that remained from the $20 million settlement will be given to 14 CNMI non-profit organizations.

Some of the workers claim that they applied for money from the trust and were denied. Others said that they received minimal amounts of money from the lawsuit. The workers want to know how denials were decided. Some also suggested that the lawsuit was filed to make attorneys rich and any financial help to the garment workers was minimal. Others claim that their employers never paid them for all of their regular and overtime hours, and they are still owed wages.

Yesterday morning the former garment workers stood with placards in front of the Horiguchi Building where the district court is located. They were joined by children, spouses and worker advocates including Carlito Marquez, Rabby Syed and Ronnie Doca. The former garment workers wanted to present a petition to Judge Munson asking for him to stop the distribution to the charitable organizations, but he was off-island. The petition was signed by over 300 former garment members.

In October 2009 Attorney Bellas announced that the trust fund would send letters to former garment workers to tell them if their applications for funds was approved. From the Saipan Tribune:
Former Superior Court associate judge Timothy H. Bellas yesterday disclosed they are going to start sending letters today to 1,313 former garment workers on Saipan who filed applications to avail of the $600,000 left over from the funds in the settlement of the class action against the garment factories.

In the letters, each worker will be notified whether the application is approved, disapproved, or there is a need for further information, said Bellas who chairs the Garment Workers Trust Fund

Bellas stressed that payments will be made only after U.S. District Court for the NMI chief judge Alex R. Munson approves GWTF's decision.

GWTF made the decision after Bellas and two other board of trustees met in Hawaii last Sept. 25 to review and discuss the almost 1,100 applications.

He said they will notify 44 who requested for medical assistance, 63 for repatriations, and 991 who are denied because they just want living expenses
Just want living expenses? People who live on a minimum wage of less than $5.00 an hour or no longer are employed may need money to live!

In a January 18, 2010 Saipan Tribune article Attorney Bellas explained the distribution:
Several former garment workers have expressed disappointment with the proposed distribution of thousands of money to non-profit organizations. The workers said they received only a small amount when the money should be distributed to them.

Bellas said he tried to explain to the workers individually and by way of a letter to the editor published in the local newspapers, that the two payments to the settlement class members (former garment workers) have been made in accordance with the terms of the settlement agreement.

Bellas said they will not donate funds to people who request for money because of the economic conditions.

“That really isn't the mandate of the purpose of the fund,” Bellas said.

GWTF has been receiving a flood of letters coming from former garment workers who want to avail of the $600,000 intended to assist garment workers who are still on Saipan facing hardships resulting from their former employment.


Saipan Writer said...

If I were trustee, I may have viewed it differently and decided that every garment worker, just upon verification of that status, should get some share of the fund. I think that's a reasonable position. Even a better position than the one taken--that each request is viewed ad hoc to see how sympathetic it is, how much wrong it rights...

But even though those arguments are persuasive to some of us, it doesn't mean that there is a legal entitlement by the garment workers based on that argument. Each worker who was a member of the class has already received his or her share--except for those who couldn't be located (and that seems to be a lot of folks). But none of those now protesting are members of the class, people who actually worked for the defendants.

They are garment workers from other businesses; they have no entitlement to the money. They, too, would be simply requesting a donation and share of the money as a charitable beneficiary.

And the trustee and court have discretion in disbursing funds as a charity.

In order to succeed in court in challenging the disbursement, I think that these garment workers would have to now show that the trustee and the court, which has reviewed and approved every disbursement before it was made, have abused their discretion.

That's a very hard standard to meet. Procedurally, I'm not sure how they would challenge the order--possibly they might need to appeal and would definitely need to file for an injunction. All of which takes legal skill and knowledge.

It pains me to hear that these desperate workers are kicking in money now for this challenge.

It is the ninth hour, and possibly too late. Without legal help, I think there is little likelihood of success.

And yes, MLSC is one of the now-designated recipients, so I have a conflict of interest (since I work for MLSC) and could not represent any worker on this matter, and perhaps that colors my views (but not much, if at all).