Furloughed IPI workers thankful for kindness of local community

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THE casino workers of Imperial Pacific International who were furloughed in March are now surviving on the kindness of the local community.

Most of them live at Miller Estates on Capital Hill while others stay at Queen Apartments in Garapan.

Around 90% of more than 2,000 casino employees were furloughed on March 16 due to the loss in casino revenue amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, Variety was told.

Michael Valdez, a slot attendant, told Variety in an interview that they have already run out of money.

By end of March, he said, they were no longer able to send money to their families back home.

For their own needs on island, Valdes said they have been receiving assistance from local individuals and community organizations including the United Filipino Organization and the Empty Vessel Ministry Foundation, which recently provided the IPI workers with rice, canned goods and other food items. (See story on page 6.)

An information technology technician who identified himself as Mark Anthony said they have been advised to seek help from Karidat,  a church-based charitable organization whose office is in Chalan Kanoa, but he added that they have no means of transportation.

Those who were not furloughed are now relying on assistance as well, after the IPI payroll account was frozen by the federal court due to an ongoing litigation.

On Friday, Rep. Tina Sablan met with some of the IPI workers.

Sablan said the IPI workers, including those at the construction site, stressed to her that they need to get paid, and they need to know when.

“These men are builders: they have specialized skills, and they take great pride in their work,” Sablan said. “They left their countries and families to come to a U.S. Commonwealth to help finish an important project, and with the expectation that they would be compensated for their work. They believed, and still believe, in the American system of government and the protections of the law,” she added.

She said the IPI workers told her the petition they circulated during their protest actions outside the federal courthouse did not come from them, but from “someone with a vested interest,” Sablan added.

The petition demanded, among other things, the replacement of District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona as presiding judge in ongoing lawsuits involving IPI.

Over the past few months, Sablan said she has reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor, the CNMI Department of Labor, the Commonwealth Casino Commission, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, her colleagues in the Legislature, and labor advocates to help the IPI workers.

At the casino commission meeting on Thursday, IPI Treasury Director Frances Mafnas said they hired a service provider from Guam that specializes in handling payrolls, to address the issue regarding the IPI employees’ paychecks.

Mafnas assured the commissioners that the service provided from Guam will facilitate payroll No. 13 onwards. IPI, she said, spends about $700,000 for its employees’ pay period. Payroll No. 13 was supposed to be released on Friday.

Rep. Tinian Sablan said she was told that the checks had been prepared, the wire transfer had been made, but would take a few days to confirm the deposit before the checks could be released.

Sablan said the IPI workers asked her to “convey their deep gratitude and affection for the people of our islands.”

“They have been overwhelmed by the kindness of community members who have stopped by their gatherings and dormitories to drop off food, water, and other supplies. And they were impressed by our police officers, who were present and respectful at their protests this week and did not interfere,” she added.

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