When he listens to workers’ concerns, be they local or foreign hires, House minority leader Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) believes he is doing his job as an elected public servant in making sure all workers in the CNMI are accorded their rights.
The two-term lawmaker from Precinct 1 made the statement after being criticized for hearing the concerns of more than 100 construction workers terminated by Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC following the removal of the Philippines from the H-2B visa program.
“Part of my job as a public servant is listening to the workers, even if they are guest workers. For them to have their fundamental rights and just hear from them. Give them assistance on things that we can provide. These guys don’t want to illegaly overstay, these are hundreds of them. I met with hundreds of them and they have their concerns,” said Propst.
The workers sought the help of Propst and Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) two weeks ago after IPI allegedly delayed releasing their final paychecks. The workers were also concerned that, with their H-2B visas expiring, they might be branded as overstayers since IPI have not yet arranged their return tickets to the Philippines.
IPI, according to the Office of the Philippine Honorary Consul, had already settled the workers’ paychecks and began sending them back home since Saturday. The workers are being sent home in batches with two groups of 40 each having left Saipan on Tuesday and Wednesday via Guam.
The workers, added the Honorary Consul’s Office, were even assisted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection since some of them had a 10-hour layover at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport.
Propst added that he is not against IPI’s investment but wants the casino-developer to remain transparent. “Every elected and appointed official, including me, want to see the casino succeed. Because we have become dependent on the revenue that it brings in to the CNMI. But we do also want to ensure that our local and federal laws are being followed.”
“We have respect for everyone, and that includes all local and guest workers. I don’t think that is too much to ask. We also ask for transparency and accountability, things that we expect from not just IPI but every large company and even small businesses here.”
He said his office is always open to any IPI official so they could discuss and find solutions on issues concerning the casino. “I’m concerned because we often say that elected or appointed officials should not say anything because we don’t want to create bad publicity. But, even if I don’t say the word, we have the media who reports these things. And if it is going to create public pressure to do something about it, then so be it.”
“But that’s part of the reason that I was elected. My door is always open to meet with any IPI representative, I do want to see the casino succeed. I will continue to do my best to work with you and if there are concerns or things that you want to discuss, my office is always open. We want to see that building done.”
Propst added that the community is also concerned about the multimillion-dollar project. “We’ve seen it given extension after extension for whatever excuses. We are definitely concerned about it because a lot of people thinks that the new extensions would be enough to finish it. We are not trying to stir the pot. We would rather want to have that casino-hotel built. If that is not finished, how does that look in our biggest tourist area?
“I am commited to working with everyone, but…we’ve seen protests after protests after protests; we can’t deny that. Whether I posted it on social media, still the [local] media will cover it. I have an obligation to the people that I represent: to make sure that laws are being followed and that workers are getting paid whether they are local or guests.”