Kilili takes laid off US workers issue to Acosta

Sep 17, 2018

Saipan Tribune - Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has raised the case of U.S. workers laid off at the Saipan casino site to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

Sablan, together with Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the lead Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, wrote Acosta last Thursday asking for a complete explanation for why his department claims it cannot prevent employers at the casino construction project from laying off U.S. workers and replacing them with foreign workers with H-2B visas.

“I very much appreciate…Scott joining me in my effort to help the U.S. workers who were ‘temporarily’ laid off at the casino construction site in July,” Sablan said. “They are still out of work, yet construction continues using foreign workers with H-2B visas. That is not right.”

Sablan alerted the Labor Department in July, as soon as he learned the U.S. construction workers had been laid off. But in conference calls on July 19 and Aug. 8 and in a face-to-face meeting with Assistant Secretary of Labor Katherine Brunett McGuire and other Labor officials on July 26, Sablan was repeatedly told that the department lacked legal authority to protect U.S. workers from being replaced by H-2B visa holders.

Sablan was not convinced. “To get H-2B visas employers must promise that U.S. workers will not lose their jobs, and Labor is supposed to enforce that promise. That has not happened,” Sablan said, “so I am joining forces with…Scott and raising this issue to the secretary’s level.

In their letter Sablan and Scott ask for a formal explanation from the secretary of his department’s position that it cannot enforce employer nondisplacement obligations under 20 CFR 655.22. Sablan asked Acosta how the department is interpreting “similarly employed U.S. worker” in this section of the code of federal regulations and how the department believes its position adheres to the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The department’s reluctance to protect U.S. workers from H-2B visa holders could also reflect how it will enforce Sablan’s newly enacted Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act. The Act, Public Law 115-218, requires that every employer who wants to apply for a Commonwealth-Only Transitional Worker (CW) permit must first obtain a temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency must certify that no U.S. worker is able and available for the job the CW worker will fill, the same requirement needed to get an H-2B visa for a foreign worker.

“After all we did in the U.S. Workforce Act to incentivize hiring U.S. workers, we cannot stand by now while foreign workers take over good-paying U.S. jobs.” Sablan said.

At the time of the layoffs, the Saipan Tribune reported they were the result of renegotiation of the construction project contract between Pacific Rim Constructors and Hong Kong-based Imperial Pacific International. IPI was “optimistic” that changes to their contract with Pacific Rim would be resolved within a week. (Construction continues even with Pacific Rim workers out. July 27, 2018)

In addition to his meetings with Labor officials, Sablan also added a privileged statement to the congressional record on Aug. 14. “Even half-finished, the Imperial Pacific International casino has lifted the economy of the Marianas. So, local news has focused on reassuring the public that work to complete the casino and its associated resort would continue,” Sablan noted. “But these reassurances mean little to the U.S. workers who have lost their jobs, or to their families.

“It also raises the question of why the U.S. Department of Labor, as it has reported to me, issued 1,668 foreign labor certifications to Imperial Pacific International to hire the H–2B visa holders, who are now taking the jobs of U.S. workers in apparent contravention of U.S. labor law.” The complete text of Sablan’s congressional record statement is available at https://www.congress.gov/crec/2018/08/14/CREC-2018-08-14-pt1-PgE1147-5.pdf

The complete text of the Sablan/Scott letter to Acosta is available at https://sablan.house.gov/sites/sablan.house.gov/files/documents/letter-to-dol-re-h2b.pdf. (PR)