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SAIPAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (August 11, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---The garment manufacturers and retailers named in the $1 billion class action suit filed in California asked the Central District Court Monday to transfer the case to the Northern Marianas, saying this venue would be more convenient for both parties.

The defendants argued that the plaintiffs, witnesses, documents, evidence, and all conditions relating to the case are all on Saipan.

By contrast, none of the plaintiffs and witnesses is in California, the defendants stated in the motion to transfer venue. "Little, if any, evidence is in California," they added.

California District Judge Christina A. Snyder placed the issue under advisement after hearing the arguments from both parties Monday morning.

Timothy Skinner, one of the Saipan-based lawyers for the plaintiffs, said, "the case should stay in California because a lot of garment products are sent to the mainland and most of the retailers are in California."

"There may be some difficulties in getting witnesses in Saipan for the trial in light of the recent flip-flop of the local government's policies with respect to Chinese nationals," Skinner said, referring the CNMI government's renewed ban on the entry of citizens from mainland China.

Plaintiffs in the class action are workers from China, the Philippines, Thailand and Bangladesh.

The California case is one of the three class actions filed by the alien workers against garment factories and big-name retailers, which buy textile products from Saipan, such as The Gap, J.C. Penny and Sears, among others.

At least four defendant retailers announced yesterday the $1.25 million settlement agreement they have forged with Milberg Weiss law firm, which represents the plaintiffs.

The two others cases are being heard in the district courts of San Francisco and Saipan.

Steven Pixley, one of the attorneys for the defendants, said the defense panel is optimistic Judge Snyder would grant the motion to transfer venue.

"The garment manufacturers believe that with the favorable rulings we have obtained in Saipan, we will absolutely win this case," Pixley said, referring to two recent rulings by Saipan District Court Judge Alex Munson.

The first ruling rejected the complainants' bid for anonymous proceeding; and the other dismissed their local claims.

The California class action was filed by 10 unnamed plaintiffs "on behalf of putative class of approximately 50,000 foreign garment workers on Saipan."

The defendants, in seeking transfer of venue, argued that it would be "impossible" for the 50,000 potential class members to travel to California considering the United States' immigration and travel restrictions.

"Foreign workers on Saipan cannot obtain visas there for entry to the mainland United States," the motion stated.

The garment workers had sued their employers for allegedly subjecting them to "unlawful sweatshops" and paying them "subsistence wages."

Other allegations include working off-the-clock, high production quotas, poor food provision, poor lightning, lack of freedom to leave barracks and on-the-job threats.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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