Four Chinese construction contractors that employed thousands of laborers to build the Grand Mariana Casino Hotel and Resort on the Pacific island of Saipan will pay workers $13.9 million in back wages and damages as part of a settlement with the US Labor Department.

Imperial Pacific’s Grand Mariana Casino

Many of the thousands of Chinese laborers who built the Grand Mariana Casino were employed illegally. Workers were underpaid and already thousands of dollars in debt, having been forced to pay their airfare and recruitment fees. (Image: Imperial Pacific)

The gaudy, rococo $550 million casino was built in 2016 and 2017 on the island, which is a US Commonwealth and so subject to federal laws.

In March 2017, one construction worker died after falling from a scaffold on the site, prompting an FBI investigation.

The probe discovered widespread visa violations among the workers, who had been brought to Saipan from China. The feds charged two contractors with importing and harboring illegal aliens.

Workers Made to Pay Airfare

Meanwhile, investigators with the FBI’s Wage and Hour Division found workers were paid less than the minimum wage – when they were paid at all – and received no compensation for overtime. They also incurred debts of $6,000 or more each because they were required to pay their own airfare and “recruitment fees.”

The four companies – MCC International Saipan, Beilida New Materials System Engineering, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration, and Sino Great Wall International Engineering – have entered into formal agreements to pay the back wages and damages to more than 2,400 employees.

“These settlements ensure that thousands of workers will receive the wages they legally earned, while simultaneously sending a strong, clear message to other employers,” said Wage and Hour acting administrator Bryan Jarrett in an official statement.

“Employers who evade the law in an attempt to reduce expenses must not gain a competitive advantage over those who play by the rules. 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.”

Imperial Pacific Sues Bloomberg

On a recent visit to Saipan, Bloomberg journalist Matthew Campbell learned from hospital staff that so many laborers had been injured during the construction of the casino, that the hospital kept an unofficial spreadsheet. It read like “a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal,” wrote Campbell.

Imperial Pacific, operator of the Grand Mariana Casino, announced last month it would sue Bloomberg over separate allegations in the same article that cast aspersions on its business practises.

Located around 1,600 miles east of the Philippines, Saipan, part of the Grand Mariana Islands, is one of the United States’ remotest territories.

Nevertheless, US Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said the case represented an example of her department’s “strong commitment to protecting the American workforce by enforcing the law.”