To date, Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC has yet to pay some of its former foreign workers their owed wages, according to House Committee on Gaming chair Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan).
At the Committee on Gaming meeting Tuesday afternoon, Propst said these foreign workers, some of whom attended and spoke during public comments at the first committee meeting last Jan. 28, were promised by IPI they would be paid “three-fourths” of their earnings under their contract, as guaranteed in their contract under the Code of Federal Regulations’ assurances and obligations of employers.
He said these workers are also owed “paid time off” from IPI.
In response to Saipan Tribune’s question yesterday as to how many stranded foreign workers he is talking about, Propst said he does not have the exact number but was told that there are close to 100 altogether, including 11 to 12 Turkish workers. It is unknown how many of these workers have Commonwealth-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1) visas; most were brought in on H2-B immigration visas.
At the Tuesday’s House Committee on Gaming meeting, the lawmaker said these foreign workers have received emails or print-outs from IPI’s Human Resources what they are owed. Propst cited an email received from a former IPI employee who was promised she would be paid a total of 547 hours on July 14, 2020.
Propst said he and committee vice chair Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) have been communicating with these workers and that, according to these workers, IPI will pay for their tickets to return to their country of origin, but will not pay them their three-fourths guarantee and paid time off.
Propst said the amounts owed these workers are relatively small, with some as little as $6,800.
“These workers are afraid that if they leave, they will never be paid by IPI,” said the lawmaker, adding that these are valid concerns as all of IPI’s former workers who left the island last year have yet to be paid.
“These stranded guest workers have no source of income, no financial means to support themselves, and have relied on the kindness of friends, family, and community members,” Propst said.
These stranded workers, he said, are willing to return home once they are paid what they are legally owed.
“Colleagues, these workers should not have to hire an attorney to force IPI to pay them their owed wages,” Propst said.
He asked lawmakers to do all they can to ensure these stranded workers are paid their wages and are returned home and reunited with their loved ones.
As for IPI’s former Turkish workers, Propst said 16 of the 28 already left Saipan last Feb. 8. He said those 16 workers left without being paid their paid time off and other wages owed them. As they had a four-day trip back to Turkey and were leaving Saipan with empty pockets, Propst said these workers asked for travel money to help with food and basic amenities during their long journey home. He said IPI had agreed to pay each worker $250 in cash if they would sign a “general release” form that released IPI of all claims these workers had against them.
“This was shameful and illegal, as these workers could barely speak English, let alone read any of this on the general release form,” Propst said, adding that U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has already declared this general release form “null and void.”
He said the U.S. Department of Labor stated that the general release form is in violation of the terms of the April 11, 2019, consent judgment prohibiting retaliation, and is an improper retaliatory attempt to have employees waive their rights under the judgment and under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Committee on Gaming will soon hold a legislative oversight hearing on IPI matters.