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More construction workers protest

CONSTRUCTION workers employed by Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC. staged a protest action on Tuesday morning, saying they had not been paid for over a month now.

Gold Mantis is a subcontractor of MCC International, Pacific Imperial’s contractor.

Meng Yong Jun, one of the Gold Mantis construction workers, shows his passport to identify himself. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Some of the workers interviewed by Variety said a representative of Gold Mantis wanted them to sign a waiver that would reduce the amount of the wages owed to them.

Through a translator, the construction workers said the project manager and two accountants with Gold Mantis came to their barracks on Monday evening handing out the following waiver that they were asked to sign:

“I [name of worker] on [month, day and year] received a salary in the amount of U.S.$____. I promise: I have been paid all of my salary, there is no other existing dispute, and I will not make a request regarding wage matters to any third party.”

Some of the construction workers signed the waiver but others did not, which led to a heated argument between them and the project manager.

One of the workers who refused to sign the waiver had worked for a week. Gold Mantis calculated he was owed $634, but if he signed the waiver he would get just $134.

The construction workers said they are supposed to be paid 300 yuan or $43.57 for nine hours a day, and 50 yuan or $7.26 in overtime pay an hour. They said they worked 13 hours a day and seven days a week, with no rest days.

On Tuesday morning, Gold Mantis construction workers initially planned to go to the office of the U.S. Department of Labor, but they changed their minds and instead went to the ABC Store area in Garapan near Imperial Pacific’s casino construction site where MCC workers had earlier staged a tally.

From the ABC Store, the Gold Mantis workers marched to the Garapan basketball court across from the Bank of Guam building.

Through a translator, the protesters said they paid their recruiter from 30,000 to 70,000 yuan or from $4,000 to $10,000 before they left China.

One of them who identified himself as Meng Yong Jun showed a burn on his left hand. He said he was burned at work. He, too, has yet to get his salary for a month and a half now.

The workers said their recruiter told them to come to Saipan for a guaranteed job, but they were also told they must pay for their work uniforms.

Some workers said they were told not to speak to anyone about anything, and to just work and get paid.

According to the workers, they are willing to go home once they get paid.

They said management told them that they would receive their wages today, Wednesday.

They hope that everything will be settled soon, and that they will be reimbursed for the placement fees they paid and other expenses they incurred on Saipan.

They also want to be given a plane ticket to China, and to be given back the money they paid for their work uniforms.

Most of the workers are “tourists” who have been on Saipan for two to five months.

When asked if their families in China know what is happening to them on Saipan, they said they don’t want their families to worry.

Black eye

Rep. Edwin Propst, who was at the protest site, wanted to know where the rest of the CNMI leaders were and why they are silent on this issue.

He noted that Imperial Pacific and the Commonwealth Casino Commission have been lobbying for an extension of the casino construction deadline, “but how can they turn a blind eye to this issue and not pay attention to the contractors and subcontractors?

He said what is happening with the construction workers has a direct impact on the completion of the casino project.

“This is a black eye for the industry. How can they turn away when a crime is being committed?” he asked.

He also wondered if the commission vetted the vendors doing business with the casino investors.

He noted that the 60-page application required “strict background checks” yet the contractors’ offices were recently raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Variety learned that Gold Mantis’s amended articles of organization were filed on Dec. 24, 2015 with the CNMI Department of Commerce-Office of the Registrar of Corporations and listed local attorney Michael W. Dotts as its initial registered agent and organizer of the company while Guosheng Zhang is its authorized representative.

Legislation

In a media release Tuesday, Rep. Ivan A. Blanco said he has introduced legislation to penalize any person encouraging or assisting aliens in illegal immigration and unlawful employment in the commonwealth.

House Bill 20-57 will empower the CNMI Department of Labor to enforce criminal penalties and certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, particularly Section 274, which criminalizes activities relating to the smuggling, transport, or harboring of unauthorized aliens.

Blanco said this bill, which was drafted in collaboration with the governor’s office, was pre-filed on March 22, 2017 and introduced during the House session on April 3, 2017 and was a “proactive response” to the first reports of MCC International Ltd. Co. unlawfully employing aliens through tourist visas.

While the CNMI is federally barred from enacting its own immigration laws, Blanco said he found, through a Congressional Research Service report, that the INA permits state and local law enforcement officers to make arrests for violations of Section 274.

“This bill was drafted immediately following the first details of illegal immigration and unlawful employment here in the CNMI and before they were brought to light in the local media. The bill’s intent is to address and prevent future incidents that threaten both our national security and our economy,” he said.

Blanco noted that this legislation is in line with Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres’ request to the US Department of Homeland Security to authorize local enforcement agencies to help in implementing federal immigration laws.

“I, as well as members of the Legislature, fully support Governor Torres’ goal of cracking down on those violating immigration and labor laws and threatening our ongoing economic growth. Both the governor’s office and all members of the Legislature are cognizant of these problems and remain committed to making sure we hold these companies accountable and reiterate our belief that we do not tolerate these illegal practices in any shape or form.”

Blanco added that he remains hopeful that the bill will help solve this problem in a responsible manner.

“As lawmakers, it is important that we propose actual legislation that not only sheds light on a problem, but also addresses the root causes through a long-term solution. And as elected officials, we inherently do not have the convenience of offering only complaints through public outreach or a message calendar. I hope this bill will assist in offering real solutions that balance both the protection of our borders and our economic development.”

Governor Torres said he supports Blanco’s efforts to do the difficult work of using his position as an elected legislator to make laws work for the safety of the people.

“The job of a legislator is not easy,” said Torres, a former House member and Senate president. “As a policy maker you are tasked with the responsibility not only to realize the problems our islands’ face, but work towards a solution. I am thankful for Rep. Ivan Blanco’s efforts on this vitally important issue and for his willingness to work collaboratively to ensure our laws allow the government the tools to crack down on this harmful practice.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/94596-more-construction-workers-protest

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