Workers ordered to support claims

Posted on Jan 05 2001

U.S. District Judge Alex R. Munson has ordered garment factory workers suing their employers on Saipan to back allegations they were forced to pay recruitment fees in order to work on the island.

He granted partly the two motions filed by garment manufacturers seeking to dismiss and strike the claims from the $1 billion class-action lawsuit.

In his ruling issued the other day, the federal judge gave “one last opportunity” for the plaintiffs — who are unnamed guest workers employed by the local garment industry — to file an amended complaint within 20 days.

This will support their allegations that the recruitment fees were improper and that the deductions made on their paycheck to cover the fees were unauthorized.

It will also prove that the payment was coerced by the defendants and that the recruiters were essentially alter egos of their employers as well as that the fees were kickbacks.

The plaintiffs earlier have claimed they were required to pay transportation costs of going to Saipan to work in the factories from their countries, particularly from the People’s Republic of China.

They likewise alleged in their amended complaint they had to pay the fees for identification card as well as the entry permits issued by the CNMI government while working on Saipan.

Noting that although some of the facts presented by the plaintiffs are sufficient to reasonably infer coercion in surrendering their paychecks, Judge Munson ruled most of the allegations fail to state or support claim that they are being denied their overtime pay.

“While plaintiffs have included many allegations concerning business relationship and mutually beneficial and seemingly improper conduct, the plaintiffs have not set forth the legal theory to which these allegations are related and which shows they are entitled to relief,” he said in the decision.

The suit, filed by a New York-based law firm on behalf of the nearly 15,000 workers employed in garment factories here, was brought in early 1999 against garment manufacturers in the CNMI and some of their U.S. buyers and retailers.

It accused manufacturers and mainland-based buyers of labor violations against contract workers who were hired from China, Bangladesh and the Philippines. They have denied the charges, although some retailers and buyers have agreed to settle the suit in recent months.

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