SAIPAN GARMENT WORKERS GET $197,000 SETTLEMENT

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 5) – Some 200 nonresident workers of L&T Corp. who filed a discrimination complaint against the Saipan garment company will receive $197,000.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled 20 charges of national origin discrimination against garment magnate Willie Tan’s L&T, the biggest garment manufacturer in the CNMI and the sister company of Saipan Tribune.

The May 3 settlement was reached before the EEOC could file a lawsuit on behalf of the Bangladeshi, Filipino and Chinese employees.

In a statement yesterday, the EEOC said the garment workers are "often the most vulnerable to mistreatment and discrimination."

"Treating workers differently because of national origin is clearly against the law…. Employers need to show strong leadership from the very top of the organization to assure that all workers — regardless of national origin — get a fair break," said the EEOC’s San Francisco district director Joan Ehrlich.

Timothy Riera, EEOC Honolulu local director, yesterday told Variety in a telephone interview that the settlement includes "about 200 nonresident workers of L&T." Some of them are still with the company while the rest have either left the CNMI or have transferred to other companies in the commonwealth.

Riera said the complaint against L&T was brought to the EEOC’s attention years ago.

In a separate interview, Steven P. Pixley, chief legal counsel of Tan Holdings, the parent company of L&T, confirmed the $197,000 settlement with the EEOC.

"The case has been pending for quite some time now and we’re glad we’ve reached an amicable settlement," said Pixley.

But there is a separate and more recent discrimination complaint against L&T and other garment factories in the CNMI, including Sako Corp.

Riera said national origin discrimination is alleged in 70 percent of pending charges filed in the CNMI.

Last April 19, the U.S. District Court on Saipan ordered garment manufacturer Sako Corp. — which shut down in early March — to pay over $1 million for failing to renew the yearly employment contracts of 65 Filipino, Thai and Bangladeshi garment workers on racial grounds. Sako hired Chinese workers in their place.

In March 2004, the U.S. District Court approved a consent decree in a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against Pacific Micronesia Corp., the former owner of Dai-Ichi Hotel Saipan, which is now owned by Tan Holdings.

One of the terms of the consent decree in that case included a payment of $400,000 to compensate 40 employees terminated due to their national origin, the EEOC said.

The complainants told the EEOC that L&T provided different assignments and benefits depending on the employees’ national origin.

For example, Bangladeshi security guards were not given favorable overtime assignments compared to Nepalese security guards, nor were they given as many benefits such as vacation leave and sick leave, the complainants said.

The employees also alleged that L&T provided more favorable benefits to employees from certain countries.

May 5, 2005

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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