News From the Labor Front

September 12, 2008

Gov. Fitial Looking for Funds to Sue Feds

The governor assured the public that funds for public services won't be used to sue the federal government. An estimated $50,000 a month is needed to fill the bank accounts of Washington-based law firm of Jenner and Block and the high paid attorneys the governor has been consulting with in his obsession to sue the federal government to block PL 110-229. A Marianas Variety article reported:
Asked if fundraisers will be conducted, the governor said it’s possible.

Fitial said the lawsuit will be filed in the federal court in Washington, D.C.

His special legal adviser, Howard Willens, will “take the lead,” the governor added.

The administration has asked the Legislature to appropriate at least $400,000 for the lawsuit, but lawmakers rejected the governor’s request.

According to Fitial, his decision to file the lawsuit “is a requirement of the CNMI Constitution.”

“Our Constitution requires me to make a decision…so I am going to make the necessary decision,” he said.
His duty to sue? The Constitution requires him to make that decision?

Fundraisers? Perhaps he is considering a yard sale, a car wash, or a carnival? Maybe his federalization fighters could hit the intersections with buckets asking motorists for change. Like anyone on Saipan has any since they've been robbed thousands from the CUC.  I'm sure his pals from groups like Western Pacific Economic Council (WPEC)will donate.

More About Job Loss

Melvin Grey, Director of Immigration has joined Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Kaipat, and doom and gloom Howard Willens in expressing worries about the loss of jobs from their departments when the federal government takes over.   A Saipan Tribune article quoted Grey:
Immigration Services has a total of 72 officers and staff on Saipan, Rota, and Tinian.

“Some of them have as much as almost 30 years. A lot of them have around 14, 15 years. They invested in one career-specialty. And this law has wiped out their career,” Grey said.

The director said he could imagine the officers' uncertainty, considering that there has been no promise of jobs for them under the federal setup.

These officers, Grey said, have nothing to fall back on because of the reduction of government's workforce and lack of positions.
Yes, imagine the uncertainty. Imagine investing 14, 20, 30 years or more in a career and not knowing what your future will hold with the new law on the horizon.  It is an extremely difficult and anxious position to be in.   It is nice to know that some CNMI government officials do possess the quality of empathy, at least selective empathy.

The situation Grey described is exactly what thousands of foreign contract workers face every year as their employers determine whether or not their contracts will be renewed.  It is the situation they face every day as more and more businesses fold, or local residents fill their positions.  Like the immigration employees, the foreign contract workers have invested 10, 20, 30 or more years in their jobs, and have established roots in the CNMI.  Yet, everything they have worked for could vanish with the stroke of a pen in the hand of a DOL or immigration official. Not only do the foreign contract workers have to worry about losing their jobs, but they have to worry about being repatriated to former homelands where many face homelessness and poverty for themselves and the US citizen children they bring with them. 

It is likely that the immigration employees can find employment elsewhere. They still will have the security of  their homes, their families, and a solid support systems.  Who knows what the federal government will do? U.S. government jobs are publicly announced and are awarded based upon qualifications.  The displaced employees could apply for these positions.  The federal government may decide to train some of the 72 immigration employees for federal jobs that would pay more and have better benefits. 

Isn't all of the press from Willens, Kaipat, and Grey concerning job loss at the local immigration and labor offices their way of pressuring the federal government to give them some kind of guarantee that the employees will be put directly into new federal positions or put at the front of the line of applicants?    

CNMI Workers to Leave for Greener Pastures?

The Fitial federalization fighters claim that PL 110-229 will result in the loss of 18,000 foreign contract workers who are needed to fulfill positions and keep the CNMI economy afloat. Positions include farmers, construction workers, nurses, doctors, cooks, accountants, tourist-related positions in hotels, service employees, and more. Of course, if the administration's goal was truly to maintain a stable workforce, they would support a pathway to citizenship for the long-term workers.  

In reality, the CNMI, Guam, and U.S. policy makers and citizens understand the vital need for foreign contract workers who are willing to fill the jobs that few Americans can do, or in many cases, would do. However, they do not want these workers to have social or political rights.  As long as they keep their mouths shut, work for wages that are below the established poverty level, and are subservient, they are welcome.  However, when they demand basic human rights, or ask for a pathway to citizenship,  then they become a problem.    

Guam will need tens of thousands of workers with the bases being built. The Asian Journal reports:
...an estimated $13 billion will be spent for construction of facilities and housing for military personnel in the span of four years. This is also meant that 20,000-30,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) can find jobs in Guam. Known for their work ethics and English proficiency, Filipino construction workers are preferred by Guam companies, according to the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI)...By the year 2014, approximately 8,000 US Marines and 9,000 family members in Okinawa, Japan will relocate to this island in the Western Pacific Ocean. It is said to be the biggest military build-up in the history of the United States, amounting to about $15 billion. The expansion could include a new Marine base, an Army ballistic missile defense facility and expanded Air Force and Navy bases by 2014, according to an initial Defense Department time line as reported by the Pacific Daily News.

Guam’s recent role on the US’ over-all defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is a significant one, with military analysts referring the island as the ‘tip of the spear.’
There is evidence that the rush to lure those guest workers from the CNMI  is already on.  A job fair is being scheduled for September 20th.  Contractors from Guam will set up booths at American Memorial Park at a Job Fair to entice foreign contract workers to accept jobs on Guam.  It provides an opportunity for skilled construction workers to make the leap to an island where electricity is cheaper and   Applicants would have to return to their homelands to complete the process of being hired as a foreign worker in Guam. 

The CNMI and Guam are in direct competition for a skilled foreign work force.  This may turn out to be a good thing for the workers.  Workers will seek employment in the place where they are treated well, appreciated, respected, given the best wages, and are in a position to gain political and social rights. CNMI foreign contract workers are going to start comparing costs of living, quality of life, and opportunities that both places offer and many will make the jump to the southern neighbor.

There are also global options, and workers will eventually select countries that offer the very best opportunities for them and their families.  Scarcity forces not just competition, but reform. When the CNMI and Guam are faced with the realization that there is no longer an endless pool of desperate foreign workers to fill vital positions, both localities will be forced to revise their laws to be more humane.  Maybe then they will start looking at the foreign workers as human beings instead of replaceable commodities. 

Opportunity and security could be why Australia is becoming the country of choice for foreign professionals and workers.  Australia, with the lowest unemployment rate in ten years, an average of 158 foreign workers arriving daily, and over 150,000 jobs being advertised each week, also offers a pathway to citizenship. From Jobs in Australia:
Many foreign workers come in sponsored by Australian or overseas businesses on a Temporary Business Long Stay Visa Subclass 457, which enables them to work from three months up to three years. Foreign workers sponsored by states or territories can be granted the Skilled Independent Regional (Provisional) Visa, which lasts for three years and requires him or her to live and work in an Australian region or a low population growth area. After three years the worker can either renew the visa or apply for permanent residence. Similar to this is the Skilled State/Territory Nominated Independent Visa. The Skilled Independent Visa, on the other hand, is not contingent on family or government sponsorship but on the person’s passing the basic Visa criteria and a 120 point score. Foreign workers who pass the requirements will obtain permanent residence.
For all of the talk that the United States is the flag bearer of human rights, the U.S. government often is forced by economic, political, or social campaigns to take the moral high road. Look at the Civil War, women's suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement.  The most important social changes made on U.S. soil did not come from moral lawmakers sitting around a table and passing legislation because it was the moral and right thing to do.  The changes came about because of unrelenting public debate, protest, and outcry.  

In the United States today immigration reform is becoming the new Civil Rights Movement. The U.S. government will be forced once again to take the right moral stand as far as the rights of legal foreign contract workers. Forced, because there are not enough policy makers who will stand up to do the right thing without being forced by public outcry and protest.

Rumors on Status 

Some guest workers have emailed or called to tell me they have been told about a new plan Deanne Siemer has to align with worker groups to once again propose long-term CNMI status for foreign contract workers.  This seems implausible considering her opposition to HB 16-86, and the fact that local laws dealing with immigration will be superseded by federal laws. Of course, being married to Howard Willens, the number one opponent of PL 110-229 and leader in the plan to sue the federal government, may mean she has a trick up her sleeve related to that plan.  

There was even one guest worker who suggested that the plan is to amend PL 15-108 to add the provision for status for long-term guest workers. Recently DOL forums on PL 15-108 have been conducted with various groups for the purpose of taking input to amend the regulations of the controversial law.

©2008 W. L. Doromal

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