Chinese workers sue IPI for alleged forced labor

Seven construction workers from China who filed a lawsuit in federal court last December against a contractor over their injuries due to accidents at the casino construction worksite in Garapan have amended their complaint and now include Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC as one of the defendants.

The seven, through counsel Bruce Berline, claimed they were forced to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions.

The seven filed the original lawsuit in federal court last December. They sued Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, a contractor of Imperial Pacific.

In the amended lawsuit filed last Friday, the seven workers are still suing Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, but added Imperial Pacific and another contractor, MCC International Saipan Ltd Co, as defendants.

The seven—Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yang—originally sued Gold Mantis for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In the amended lawsuit, the seven workers are suing the defendants for alleged forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, forced labor in violation of the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.

The plaintiffs asked the court told the defendants liable to pay them damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still trying to obtain comments from Imperial Pacific.

Imperial Pacific had denied the allegations before.

The company also previously stated that it “denounces in the strongest terms harboring of illegal workers by some of its contractors and subcontractors and will continue to work with authorities in the amicable resolution of issues.”

The plaintiffs were allegedly among the Gold Mantis employees who staged numerous protests against the company in 2017 over unpaid wages.

Gold Mantis eventually reportedly reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor in which it agreed to pay millions of dollars to plaintiffs and their coworkers for wage and hour violations that occurred during their employment.

According to the complaint, Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Qingchun Xu, and Liangcai Sun began their employment with Gold Mantis working on the casino worksite in January or February 201,.

Plaintiffs Youli Wang and Duxin Yang began working for Gold Mantis in November and December 2016, respectively.

After learning of the plaintiffs’ injuries during separate accidents at the casino project worksite, Gold Mantis allegedly refused to take them to the hospital’s emergency room, call for emergency medical assistance, or arrange any other form of medical attention.

Berline said Gold Mantis never compensated the plaintiffs for their injuries, and never provided them with any pay for the time that they were unable to work.

Berline said the plaintiffs paid fees sometimes exceeding $8,000 to recruiters in China for their jobs on Saipan.

He said many of them had to borrow money from loan sharks at high interest rates, using their land or homes as collateral, in order for them to pay these fees.

Upon arriving on Saipan, managers at MCC and Gold Mantis then allegedly got more fees from plaintiffs before allowing them to work.

Berline said although plaintiffs had been promised that they could work on Saipan for several years or even obtain green cards, they later learned that they lacked legal authorization to work on Saipan.

Plaintiffs were allegedly required to work over 12 hours per day without any rest day, and sometimes were forced to work a 24-hour shift.

Bruce Berline

Berline said even though plaintiffs’ pay rate was already below the legal minimum wage, their employers systematically withheld a portion of their earned wages and often failed to pay them anything for weeks at a time.

Plaintiffs were allegedly crammed into dormitories, some of which had no showers or air-conditioning.

The lawyer said the supervisors yelled and cursed at the plaintiffs, and forced them to pay fines if they did not work hard enough or arrived late.

Berline said the Imperial Pacific construction site was also extremely dangerous, that the injury incidence rate exceeded the national average as untrained and inexperienced workers were pushed to work around-the-clock, while basic safety precautions were ignored.

Berline said plaintiffs faced immense pressure to repay the large (and growing) debts incurred in China, and were told by their employers that, if they leave their job, nobody else would hire them.

Berline said one Gold Mantis supervisor, who had allegedly physically beaten another employee, threatened to kill the plaintiffs if they disobeyed him.

Berline said MCC and Gold Mantis managers also repeatedly told them that, since they were on Saipan illegally, it would be useless to complain to the authorities.

“Imperial Pacific knew about or, at a minimum, recklessly disregarded its contractors’ exploitative and illegal practices,” the lawyer said.

Imperial Pacific, Berline said, was repeatedly told about the use of unauthorized workers on its construction site. Yet, in a bid to rush to complete the project, Berline said, Imperial Pacific and its contractors did not remedy the situation and, instead, sought to conceal their illegal scheme from government authorities, medical providers, and any other party that might hold them accountable.

He said Imperial Pacific and its contractors denied entry to an investigator from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who came to inspect safety conditions at the worksite.

The unauthorized Chinese workers were also allegedly told to hide when government inspectors did come to the worksite or dormitories.

In the meantime, Berline said, Imperial Pacific earned billions of dollars in revenue from its casino operation.

He said each plaintiff suffered a physical injury while working for Gold Mantis on the Imperial Pacific project, including a badly burnt leg, scalded hand, and partially severed finger.

He said workers’ compensation insurance was never purchased for plaintiffs.

Several Gold Mantis and other construction workers have protested publicly in the streets of Saipan.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.