Biden Expands H-2B and a CNMI Casino Shows Why the Program Should Shrink

By David North on April 4, 2022

About the same time that the Biden administration announced it was expanding the H-2B program for low-skilled, non-ag workers, as my colleague Robert Law has reported, a new kind of abuse was reported in the program — a dual-wage system that hurts Turkish workers and helps those from Taiwan, although all are H-2Bs.

There are relatively few Turkish workers in this program nationwide: Where are they mixed with Taiwanese?

The answer is in a casino building project in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), just north of Guam, the U.S. territory that routinely has more foreign labor use — and abuse — than anywhere else under the U.S. flag.

We last looked in on this matter in December 2020 when we reported that the hundred or so Turks on the construction site complained that, while they had been promised Turkish food by their employers, they were fed Chinese food. There were other charges as well, including non-payment of overtime and sometimes non-payment of wages of any kind.

The more recent news is that the Turkish H-2B workers have gone into the federal courts to protest that they have been paid at much lower rates than the Taiwanese H-2 workers on the same job and that this happened because the Hong Kong owners favored workers of their own ethnicity. These charges, and related events, though on a distant island, were reported in some detail in a long piece by Law360.

I have been paying attention to H-2B for years and do not recall another instance in which one nationality in the program was paid at a different level on the same job site, doing the same work, as workers from another nation.

The employers’ lawyer, according to Law360, says that the Turks’ suit “doesn’t convincingly show that they were underpaid based on their national origin.” Maybe the Turks’ lawyer should have argued that they were underpaid because they were not from Taiwan.

The salaries for the construction workers were remarkably low by Mainland standards. One of the workers, a journeyman electrician, was paid at a rate of $17,368 a year, which, if it consists of 2,080 hours of work, comes to $8.35 an hour in 2020; construction foremen got $10.50 an hour. There was no reporting, in the earlier accounts of Chinese food, as to who paid for it.

The case is before federal Judge Ramona Manglona, who previously ruled that the employer, Imperial Pacific International Holdings LLC, had to pay $5.9 million to another group of workers, Chinese in that case, for being forced to work in “extreme, dangerous and inhumane conditions”.