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DAEWOOSA Update, Dec 11,2000

The following excerpts were published in the Samoan News on the 6th and 8th of December, 2000.

Governor Tauese Sunia toured the Daewoosa factory on December 7th. He informed the owner, Kil-Soo Lee, that Daewoosa would be responsible for the return of the Vietnamese workers who wished to return to their homeland. This was a ruling made by the High Court (on December 7th). This affects about 35 workers and will cost Daewoosa about $1000 to $1500 per worker.

The issue of back wages remains deadlocked and that the governor declared that it is a civil matter that must be resolved thru the courts. The Governor discussed the issue of Vietnamese workers who are working outside of Daewoosa. He said that the Vietnamese workers are visitors in the territory and must obey Samoan law. Samoan law does not allow guest workers to work outside of their sponsor's place of employment.

The governor expressed concern that the incident had painted a bad picture of American Samoa and he did not wnat Samoa dragged thru the political forums in Washington D.C. or in the international arena. He cited the bad treatment of garment workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the threat, by Congress, to cut federal funding for CNMI. He made it clear to Mr Lee that American Samoa will not jeopardize its federal funding because of its treatment of workers at his Tafuna factory.

The governor then made statements, and repeated these statements on public TV (KNZK-TV) that some of the Vietnamese girls were working the clubs at night and sleeping during the daytime instead of working at the garment factory.

In a related story printed in the Samoan News on December 8th under the title of "About the Governor's comments on KVZK??p;quot;. This article was a rebuttal to the Governors earlier comments. The attorneys for the Vietnamese workers are Virginia Lynn Sudbury, Esq. And Christa Tzu-Husiu Lin, Esq. In the article they expressed dissatisfaction with KVZK-TV for their having to use the newspaper to respond to the Governors broadcast.

The attorneys reflected on the history of the situation. It began last December (1999) when a complaint was filed that the Vietnamese workers were not being paid for the work performed. They complained to Mr Lee who immediately put the workers on the next flight out of the Territory, which the attorneys characterized as retaliatory and an illegal means of labor resolution.

The attorneys took the Governor to task concerning his comments that the Vietnamese girls were working the clubs (including the injured Ms. Quyen who lost an eye) as she "sleeps in the day". The attorneys found these comments to be untrue and highly inappropriate and potentially actionable from a legal standpoint. They further commented that "To cast such aspersions upon these ladies is not only without foundation or evidence, but on the public airwaves is despicable".

In the Governor's broadcast he mentioned that the Vietnamese workers were sewing dresses "for $6 a dress" because they can make more doing that than working at the factory. The attorneys responded that "Even if the workers earned a penny a dress they would be making more than they are earning at the factory, as our allegations are that they would be making more than they are earning at the factory, as our allegations are that they have not been paid their salary by Daewoosa since May of this year".

The attorneys further stated "However the workers did desire to continue working, and did so on every date that Kil-Soo Lee did not shut the factory down."

In his broadcast the Governor stated that he had read the statements of Mr Nu'uuli and Ms Virginia Soli'ai regarding the incident of violence. He did not read any statements made by the Vietnamese. The attorneys took exception to the Governor over his making a public decision and comment on "what happened" at Daewoosa without investigating the Vietnamese side of the incident.

The Governor's comments concerning the fact that it was now an international incident and that he despairs of American Samoa becoming another Saipan [in regard to garment factories]. They displayed little sympathy with the Governor on this issue when the commented that "We only hope that this will not be repeated when future garment companies and their ilk wave promises of ill-gotten profits in the Government's eyes".

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