Delays?

August 13, 2010

Minimum Wage
On October 1, 2010 the CNMI minimum wage will be increased to $5.05 an hour.  It's certainly not a living wage, so the increase will not be the cause of much celebration.  Additionally, with each minimum wage increase many CNMI employers have stuck it to the workers by cutting their hours and /or benefits.  In the case of benefits, the cuts have often been illegal as more and more employers reportedly tell foreign workers if they want to continue to work they must agree to pay for their own health care costs.

Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI) want to delay the 2011 increase until another "impact study" is done.  An impact study may be a good idea since the economy continues to be unstable worldwide.  Yet it seems when more money is put into people's pockets, the more money that they can spend, which can only improve economic conditions. 

Delay in Transitional Worker Regulations
It's been reported that there will be a delay in the release of the CNMI-only Guest Worker Regulations.

After the regulations were published and scheduled to go into effect November 28, 2009, the Fitial Administration sued to have them removed under there was a proper comment period.  Certainly the USCIS will want to dot their i's and cross their t's when issuing the new regulations.  Everyone who is complaining that the regulations are delayed may want to remember that it was Fitial and his anti-fed fighters who caused the delay in the first place with the federal lawsuit.

The CW regulations will impact all of the guest workers who do not qualify for H1 visas reserved for professional categories.

David Gulick, district director of the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services, told the The Marianas Variety:
“If you read the proposed rules on the transitional worker, it basically covered most people, especially those working in the tourism industry. There are few things that were included in the proposed rules but I cannot say them because they haven’t been finalized. Majority of the workers would be included,” said Gulick.

The federalization law grandfathered CNMI-issued labor or entry permits for the first two years after it took effect or until Nov. 2011.

Gulick said DHS has already considered this situation and that’s why paroles have been issued.

“We’ve issued paroles to allow people to keep working,” he said.

The parole-in-place is offered to foreign workers who failed to get CNMI-issued umbrella permits which the federal government recognizes as valid through Nov. 27, 2011.

Gulick said an extension for parole is also an option if the regulations are not completed as scheduled.

The CW status will be valid for one year and is processed through the USCIS office in California. There is a fee involved, but the amount will be determined by the final regulations.
Wouldn't it be easier to give the legal foreign workers green cards so those with jobs could continue working uninterrupted without the expense and hassle of permits and fees? The issuance of green cards to the legal nonresidents would also allow those without jobs the freedom to move to the mainland or Guam to find work.
One of the many forums USCIS sponsored in the CNMI.
Congressman Sablan's Letter to USDoL
Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan sent a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis requesting that the U.S. Department of Labor send a representative to the CNMI to explain procedures concerning determining the prevailing wage for foreign workers. I am guessing any procedures are delayed because of the Fitial-caused delay of the CW regulations.

Congressman Sablan wrote in his August 10, 2010 letter:
Despite repeated requests made by myself and my staff since this procedure was put in place, your Department has yet to release to the public a detailed explanation of the procedure, nor have any personnel been sent to the CNMI to work with employers, workers, and others to explain the procedure. My staff and I were told on numerous occasions that, at the least, a contact number would be provided for employers, workers, and others who have questions about the procedures. To date, this has not been provided. In addition, the CNMI is not among the jurisdictions listed in the Online Wage Database (OWL) and no existing prevailing wage determinations have been made public. The FAQs and other information published in the Federal Register have not been widely distributed in the CNMI nor do they address the questions of most concern to CNMI residents. Finally, the contact numbers printed on relevant forms and provided on your Department's website are staffed by individuals who have no knowledge of the CNMI's unique circumstances and who cannot adequately respond to the questions posed by callers from the CNMI.

As a result, those with questions are turning to other federal officials on the ground in the CNMI. These officials are making definitive statements - without sufficient knowledge or authority to do so - about the prevailing wage procedure and likely determinations - which do not align with what my staff and I are being told by the Department of Labor. As this conflicting information becomes widespread,as it quickly does in a small community like the CNMI, it is left to local officials and myself to correct the rumors. However, with little concrete evidence to support my assertions and no one in your Department to point to as a contact to confirm this information, we can only add our voices to the large number providing conflicting viewpoints on the subject. Even staff members at the CNMI Department of Labor, who have been trained by your Department about their role in the process, cannot answer the questions from employers about procedures conducted by your Department. Because of this lack of reliable information, employers and others have been filing requests with your Department, which are being returned and which then must be revised at the needless cost of additional time and money.

Madam Secretary, there has always been widespread concern in my district about the impact of federalization on businesses and the non-immigrant workforce. The Department of Labor, which is an integral participant in this transition process, remains largely absent from the scene and unavailable for guidance. The delays and problems created by this absence and the lack of information from your Department are adding to people's anxiety and frustration. I strongly urge you-as I have in the past-to make a member of your staff available on the ground in the CNMI. Please provide someone who has the knowledge and authority to answer questions regarding this transition on behalf of your Department.
I think if a person is going to make accusations against someone, then attribute a name to the accused. Also, give an example.  Congressman Sablan stated (emphasis added):
"As a result, those with questions are turning to other federal officials on the ground in the CNMI. These officials are making definitive statements - without sufficient knowledge or authority to do so - about the prevailing wage procedure and likely determinations - which do not align with what my staff and I are being told by the Department of Labor. As this conflicting information becomes widespread, as it quickly does in a small community like the CNMI, it is left to local officials and myself to correct the rumors."
So just who are these alleged federal officials in the CNMI who lack "sufficient knowledge or authority" and what exactly did they state that is being questioned by the congressman as incorrect information?

Why would "local officials and Congressman Sablan" be considered responsible for "correcting rumors?" The U.S. Department of Labor personnel and other federal officials who possess the information should play that role. It's obvious that the CNMI Department of Labor and AG have done nothing but deliberately confuse employers and workers by defiantly challenging and going against statements and clarifications made by USCIS and other federal officials. The CNMI DOL and AG can't even get the federal determination on umbrella permits correct!

It will be interesting to see the response to this letter.

For more on the guest worker regulations and prevailing wage information see this post.

7 comments:

Captain said...

If I am not mistaken,I think it was last year, Guam passed a law that all "foreign workers" would be paid the prevailing AWD wages (area wage determination)under Davis Bacon.
This was to make it more affordable to hire "local" than to pay the costs of the visa and the rest of the paperwork and upkeep for these workers. I don't know why that was needed as any worker that is working on a Fed contract is required to be paid this anyway.
Also there is not enough "local" workers available on Guam anyway to fill the labor requirement.

After 2011, I can anticipate that the wages in the NMI for foreign workers will have to match the AWD wages for the job classification anyway IF these present CW are not given some kind of status.
On the other hand any "new" workers brought in under the fed regs will be of a higher wage than CNMI minimum.

I wonder if this Gov. and his private sector realize that they may be shooting themselves in the foot by keeping the minimum wages down and trying to keep these workers from a status.(other than Status Quo)

Since the "local" will not work for the minimum wage and if these business bring in foreign workers after that date, it will mean that the outside workers will be paid, according to their job description, which will be more than the "locals" working in the private sector. (and possibly many in the Govt sector)

Anonymous said...

The minimum wage issue to a bit skewed out here. I do agree that the low minimum wage does keep the economy down in general, but I'm not sure that more money in the private sector means that more money gets spent locally. Taking Government, the largest local employer, out of the picture as they pay more than minimum anyway, you are left with a fairly small local workforce. Yes, they would benefit from a raise. The rest of the minimum wage folks are contract workers who would probably just remit or save more, but they would spend some of it locally.
The Covenant agreement says that the US is to bring up living standards in the CNMI. One way you do it raising the minimum wage. I do believe in a small economy like the CNMI, some people would lose their jobs, including contract workers, but that's just the way it is.
This economy might have to stabilize with the total population of the CNMI going down about 20%. This includes locals and workers. That's just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

11:36 am; I believe the population has gone down more than 20% since this Gov.was originally elected to office. And the exodus continues. I think that the exodus will continue until after the next Gov. election. Then depending on who is elected will determine much after that.
This Guam construction for the buildup will also have a big effect on the local population, as jobs are higher paying.

Anonymous said...

The Captain said "after 2011, I can anticipate that the wages in the NMI for foreign workers will have to match the AWD wages for the job classification anyway IF these present CW are not given some kind of status".

I just don't comprehend where that is coming from. The anticipated CW Transitional Worker Visa was originally crafted to transition into the federal system and did not include any prevailing wages.

If I were the federal government, I would never come out with the CW Transitional Worker Regulations until Fitial dropped his lawsuit. The regulations were for the CNMI's benefit and I would bet that Fitial would beg for the regulations to come before November 2011.

Anonymous said...

How is it known that Fitial's lawsuit delayed the transitional worker regulations? Did Gulick say that? Gulick is saying that they are not wanting to hurt the economy, or something like that. So could it be that the original draft was not friendly to the economy and thus workers, and now in light of the deteriorating situation DHS may be more sensitive to the concerns? Or is there something else going on?

Anonymous said...

2:37 It was stated that "IF" there would be no status for CW and they had to go under the present "H" visa system as in Guam and elsewhere in the US and for any new workers that would come in under the "H" visa (or other skilled visa)

Anonymous said...

Noni 7:20am,

How is it known? Was it supposed to be a secret? Well too bad. It is known that Fitial caused the delay because it is documented. Try reading a bit:

The original regulations:

http://unheardnomore.blogspot.com/2009/10/asylum-and-other-cnmi-regulations.html

The governor's supplemental motion to suspend those regulations:

http://unheardnomore.blogspot.com/2009/11/fitials-attorneys-file-supplemental.html
The reissuance:

http://unheardnomore.blogspot.com/2009/12/federalization-news-regulations-to-be.html