In a privileged statement that he entered into the Congressional Record this week, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) called for more rigorous enforcement of the U.S. Department of Labor’s foreign labor certification program.
Citing a department statement, Sablan said that Labor recently issued 1,668 foreign labor certifications that enabled Saipan casino operator Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC to use H-2B visas to hire foreign workers.
On July 27, it was reported that IPI contractor Pacific Rim, a company that promised to add U.S. workers to the casino construction crews, would now be laying off its workforce. Pacific Rim called the lay-offs “temporary leave,” pending contract renegotiations with IPI. And IPI expressed optimism that the contract would be resolved within a week. That has not happened.
Sablan acknowledged the importance of Imperial Pacific to Marianas economy. “Even half-finished,” he said, “the Imperial Pacific International casino has lifted the economy of the Marianas. So, local news has focused on reassuring the public that work to complete the casino and its associated resort would continue.
“But these reassurances mean little to the U.S. workers who have lost their jobs, or to their families,” said Sablan. “It also raises the question of why the U.S. Department of Labor, as it has reported to me, issued 1,668 foreign labor certifications to Imperial Pacific International to hire the H-2B visa holders, who are now taking the jobs of U.S. workers, in apparent contravention of U.S. labor law.”
In his statement Sablan reviewed how U.S. workers are supposed to be protected from competition from workers with H-2B visas.
On July 26, Sablan met with Assistant Secretary of Labor Katherine Brunett McGuire to alert her to how U.S. workers were being laid off and to ask for the Labor Department’s intervention. To date there has been no action.
“By giving the situation more prominence in the Congressional Record it is my hope that we will get more attention from Labor and our U.S. workers will get the help they need,” Sablan said.
In 2017, a death and multiple injuries led to a proposed fine of $193,750 for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. And this year, the U.S. Labor Department finalized a settlement with IPI subcontractors of $13.9 million for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition, a raid of the site by the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that subcontractors there had been unlawfully employing persons who entered the United States as tourists.
“This record in itself should have raised red flags at the U.S. Department of Labor,” Sablan said. …“The U.S. Department of Labor, after enabling IPI by granting 1,668 foreign labor certifications, must take immediate action to step up enforcement and ensure IPI maintains absolute compliance with U.S. law.” (PR)