Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: INS probe urged for port of Oakland
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Feb 02 2001 - 11:53:33 EST
INS probe urged for port of Oakland
Lawsuits charge slave labor conditions
By George Raine
The San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2001
A congresswoman has asked the federal government to investigate allegations
that a Chinese company is paying its workers wages as low as 57 cents an
hour and violating other labor laws as they install four huge cranes at the
Port of Oakland.
The request by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, adds pressure on the Shanghai
Zhenhua Port Machinery Co., which was sued last week in Alameda County
Superior Court by the Iron Workers California District Council, which
alleged the company is violating state prevailing and minimum wage laws.
The prevailing wage for union and nonunion ironworkers is $24.83 per hour,
plus benefits, the lawsuit notes.
The group of 16 to 20 Chinese workers is installing cranes that were
brought in from China in October. The giant cranes barely fit under the
Golden Gate Bridge en route to the Port of Oakland.
Lee asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to determine whether
the workers, who have lived in a motel in Oakland since their arrival in
the Bay Area, are performing work in violation of their temporary visa
conditions, and at the same time denying American workers job opportunities.
She has asked the Labor Department to look into the charge the workers are
working under slave labor conditions.
"There's a moral obligation here," Sandre Swanson, Lee's chief of staff,
said yesterday. "But this is also important to taxpayers. The cranes are
part of a $1.7 billion expansion of the Port of Oakland, and that's a
partnership with taxpayers that needs to be respected."
The workers have B-1 visas that provide they can work as technical advisers
and perform work that U.S. workers would not be able to perform because of
unfamiliarity with the equipment.
However, there is evidence, Swanson said, along with port spokesman Harold
Jones, that the workers have been welding, painting and doing electrical
work and other chores not protected by the visa.
That triggered the suit by the Iron Workers California District Council in
Alameda County Superior Court. The Council also filed suit last week in
U.S. District Court in Oakland against the Justice Department and State
Department, alleging they have violated federal law in dispensing the B-1
Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Co. does not yet have legal representation
in California, and an official in Shanghai did not return an e- mail
seeking comment. In San Francisco, Sharon Rummery, an INS spokeswoman, said
it does not comment on pending litigation.
The cranes cost $5.5 million each and the Port of Oakland has ordered six
more, to arrive over several months. The Port of Los Angeles has ordered
four. The lawsuits, said Ellyn Moscowitz, an Oakland attorney representing
the iron workers, are intended to force restitution for the workers, "but
we are also concerned what will happen with the next cranes that arrive."
Moscowitz said she interviewed several of the workers recently and said
they told her they were paid 100 yuan a day, which converts to 57 cents an
hour. ""That obviously gives the company an unfair competitive advantage
over law-abiding American contractors,'' said Moscowitz.
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