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By Ben Penn
Four construction contractors agreed to pay workers nearly $14 million in back pay and damages stemming from a Labor Department investigation, a record high for the Trump administration’s wage enforcement regime. In a twist, the workers hail from China.
The 2,400 Chinese employees who will split the pot were covered by federal wage and hour laws while building a massive casino and hotel on the U.S. territory Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a DOL statement. The four contractors brought the workers to Saipan using tourist visas, but without paying them the legally required minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime when exceeding 40 hours in a week, the agency said.
The companies also did not obtain proper work visas for the employees, according to the department. Bloomberg Law’s attempts to contact the companies were not immediately successful.
Million-dollar settlements are rare for the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. A single case has not come close to approaching the $14 settlement mark in several years, according to a Bloomberg Law review of the WHD’s public enforcement database.
Although the wages collected in this instance are reserved for foreign workers, the DOL leaders focused their message on the implications for U.S. companies.
“Employers who evade the law in an attempt to reduce expenses must not gain a competitive advantage over those who play by the rules,” WHD Acting Administrator Bryan Jarrett said. “Regardless of where work is performed in the U.S. or its territories, we will continue to enforce the law and level the playing field.”
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta connected this investigation to the administration’s broader focus on rooting out visa fraud.
“As the Department of Labor works to prevent visa fraud and abuse, this case represents an example of the Department’s strong commitment to protecting the American workforce by enforcing the law,” Acosta said in the statement.
The department finalized the settlements with four companies—MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co., Beilida New Materials System Engineering Co. Ltd., Gold Mantis Construction Decoration, and Sino Great Wall International Engineering Co. LLC. They were all contracted by Imperial Pacific International for construction of its Saipan Casino and Hotel project.
The WHD is still engaged in a “wide-ranging” investigation into this expansive construction project in Saipan.
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