‘We live in the dark and fear’


Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC employees claim that they have yet to receive their pay for the last four months despite numerous promises made by the company.

In an email to Saipan Tribune, an IPI employee who requested anonymity claims she and her colleagues have not been paid for the last four months. “We, IPI employees, have…no money for food. None of the employee housing has electricity. We lost health insurance because the company didn’t pay. Some of us became illegal since IPI didn’t repatriate us after layoff last year. We live in the dark and fear,” she stated.

The U.S. Department of Labor has petitioned the U.S. District Court for the NMI to cite IPI for contempt for creating a “humanitarian crisis” in the CNMI by failing to abide by the terms of a previous consent judgment that required IPI to take care of its employees. U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona will hear the USDOL’s petition today at 8:30am.

In its eight-page petition, the USDOL accused IPI executives of unlawfully requiring stranded employees to work without pay during a global pandemic and failing to meet the workers’ basic necessities or provide for their return to their home countries.

In his opposition of USDOL’s petition, former IPI CEO Donald Browne explained that he only allowed employees to work when IPI was not paying them because he believed that they would be paid all of their back wages by Dec. 14,

“I believed that they would be paid by Christmas. I am still hopeful that all the wages owed to the employees, including to myself, will be paid shortly,” Browne said.

Browne said there was no intention not to pay IPI employees.

Browne noted in his opposition that he has discussed the consent judgment with USDOL attorney Charles Song where he admitted that employees continued to work even when he posted multiple stop-work orders.

“I explained how several stop-work orders were initiated by myself on both the construction site and our casino operations support team. Management tolerated the employees working even though the company could not timely pay them because the expectation was that IPI would pay them soon. There was no intent not to pay them,” Browne said.

However, Browne said, just hours after posting the last stop-work memo on Dec. 7, 2020, he was awakened from his sleep by a continuous knocking on the back door of his home by an interpreter who was asking him to discuss the stop-work order.

“At the meeting was the chairlady of the board of directors of IPI’s parent company, Cui Li Jie. She was with five other individuals. I was asked by them to please withdraw the stop-work order. The chairlady then promised me that all employees would be paid 100% of wages owed by Dec. 14. I understood that everyone desired that I withdraw the stop-work order and I was assured all wages would be paid by Dec. 14. I therefore relented and withdrew the stop-work order,” he said.

Browne added that part of his reasoning for withdrawing the order was that the foreign workers of IPI could not be repatriated due to a lack of funds to pay for their plane tickets, and he was told that they would rather work than sit in the company-provided housing doing nothing.

Browne told the court that the payroll was not paid on Dec. 14, but more promises were made by Cui that payroll would be paid soon.

“I believe that on Dec. 24 IPI’s bank received a wire transfer sufficient to cover all outstanding payroll. IPI then began issuing payroll checks. I understand and believe that the wire was ultimately rejected by the bank on Dec. 31, and sent back to its source. Many of the checks to the employees that had been issued then bounced. However, I am informed and believe that the money was back on Saipan on Jan. 5, 2020,” he said.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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