Pacific Rim president Keith Stewart spoke out Thursday last week against many rumors about its contract with Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, saying that the things being said about the subject are not true and some are mere speculations.
There have been media reports in regional newspapers that they had “laid off” their laborers working on the IPI construction site of the Imperial Pacific Resort while hiring foreign workers under the H-2B visa category, referencing CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) privilege statement a few weeks ago.
“The people don’t understand what’s going on and the article that came out is not true,” said Stewart. “We have not gone and laid off any of our workers. We simply furloughed them. Our intention is to bring them back once we finalize the agreements. Unfortunately, several sources had picked it up and tried to head down different directions with that information or did not have the correct facts of what was going on.”
Sablan’s statement in the U.S. congressional record implied that Pacific Rim laid off its U.S. eligible workers and replaced them with foreign laborers under the H-2B visa.
Stewart and Pacific Rim legal counsel Colin Thompson said all of their workers from the CNMI and Guam are all U.S. eligible, with approximately 80 to 90 being hired locally. “Since we’re a Guam-based company, we also brought some of our workers here. We furloughed some [Guam workers included] and they went back to Guam. All of our workers are U.S. and legal,” Stewart said.
He pointed out that they anticipated the furlough of their workers, which started in late July, would only be a week as they renegotiate their contract with IPI. “It was Tuesday night [July 24] that we went and we asked to furlough workers. The intent was for a short period of time.”
“The idea and intention at that point is to…renegotiate the contract. We had issued a lump sum proposal, for performing portions of the work. We also had a construction management proposal and we’re working on what needs to come together.”
Thompson added that they have yet to finalize the contract. “[But] all of them [Pacific Rim workers] are U.S. and [some are] from Guam.”
“We anticipated [furlough] it to be a week initially but the contract hasn’t been completed yet. As indicated [Wednesday] that maybe this week [but] we’re going to complete them very soon.”
Stewart and Thompson added that they haven’t laid off anyone of their workers, as they would return to the construction site once the new contract is finalized and signed by both parties.
“We’re just going to put them back to work. We haven’t laid off anybody. We’re going through contract clarification with [IPI]. [IPI] asked us to stop work until we got through the negotiations. We never laid them off.”
Thompson added: “That article also seem to say that Pacific Rim hired a lot of foreign workers under H-2B [visas] and that is also inaccurate. It is not true, all or 100 percent of the workers at Pacific Rim are from Guam and Saipan.”
Stewart said a total of 400 of their U.S. workers were affected by the furlough and they have no intention of laying them off so they could hire laborers under the H-2B visa category.
He added that they are going through a transition phase with terms of payment as part of the negotiations. “We didn’t mind waiting because we’re waiting for payment. So it made sense at that time to go through that step. What’s in effect now for several weeks is working through this process. I think we’re close to resolving a number of portions of that [contract].”
IPI senior vice president for special projects Viola Alepuyo said they rely on the report given to them by their experts, including Pacific Rim, which said that two years is enough time for them to complete the project. “I’m not a construction expert. So I would not know. I have to rely on them.”
IPI asked the CNMI Lottery Commission for an extension on its Aug. 31, 2018, date of completion deadline. That request was approved Friday; the new deadline is now Feb. 28, 2021.
Alepuyo said certain factors should be taken into consideration why the multi-million dollar project encountered delays, aside from worker-related issues. “Just to be safe, we just had a typhoon, and there are two more that’s coming. Based on Pacific Rim, they can finish the project in two years.”
“If it rains or [if there’s] a typhoon, those cranes can’t move if the winds are strong. [Sometimes] it doesn’t have to be a full typhoon that’s coming our way. If there’s a high wind advisory, people don’t know that.”
She added that the need to get a U.S. construction company also became an issue. “In the best-case scenario, a project developer would hire a construction company and that construction company would go and hire all of its workers. In this situation, we were under the timeline pursuant to this license agreement. We could not find a construction company to come on board and take over the project. That process took almost a year. The contract with Pacific Rim was signed in February 2018.”
Alepuyo said IPI, in order to move forward with the construction project, had to petitions foreign workers under the H-2B visa category. “So you’re hearing a lot of contract modification discussions and that’s part of the reasons, because IPI had no choice but to get the needed workforce that was necessary to complete the project as well as to find a U.S. construction company.”