Fitial's Last Act: One Final Jab to the CNMI's Foreign Workers

February 23, 2013

One of former Governor Benigno Fitial's last official acts was to sign legislation that will further harm the already oppressed CNMI nonresident workers.

On February 19, 2012 a day before the governor resigned he signed H.R. 17-147 that revokes the mandatory requirement that employers must pay 100 percent of foreign employees' medical insurance.

Public Law 17-147 states that the minimum wage increases should be "sufficient for nonresident workers to provide for themselves and pay for their medical coverage as well.”

It is a sad commentary on the CNMI that the legislators claim that removing this benefit from foreign workers will be "fair" for the local and foreign workers. The bill reads, “The removal of the mandated benefits will create fairness for all employees within the Commonwealth, nonresident and resident workers alike.” This bill will not create "fairness."

Fair would be viewing the legal, longterm foreign workers as future citizens or at least upgrading their status to secure their future. Very little about the CNMI foreign worker system, past or present, is "fair", moral or just. In what way is it fair to live and work in a community for 10, 20, 30 years or more and remain a part of the disenfranchised underclass? An employee's status should have been considered in qualifying the "fairness" of removing this important benefit. U.S. citizen workers who cannot afford health insurance are covered by Medicaid and qualify for other U.S. programs such as food stamps. Foreign workers do not qualify for such programs.

An hourly wage of $5.55 does not even provide a decent quality of life. The CNMI has the highest utility rates on U.S. soil, ridiculously high food costs and gas is expensive as well. No nonresident worker making $5.55 an hour can afford health insurance or afford to pay for health care costs on a $5.55 hourly rate.

In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama called for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour:
"We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. " 
Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
Of course, President Obama was talking about the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour as being an unacceptable poverty level wage. It is.  But the CNMI's minimum wage of $5.50 is even worse and every time it is set to raise by $.50, the CNMI businesses and elected officials urge the U.S. Congress not to raise it.

At the CNMI's minimum wage level of $5.50 an hour a worker would earn only $11.440 annually if he worked 40 hours a week for 52 weeks. We all know that most CNMI workers work less than 40 hours a week and many also make less than $5.50 hourly. The many victims of wage theft make even less.

What do the legislators and governor who signed this bill want the foreign workers to give up to be able to afford health insurance or afford to seek medical care? Food, clothing, utilities, rent? This hourly wage does not even afford them the bare necessities. These legislators and former governor who think this bill is "fair" should try to live on the $5.50 hourly minimum wage for a year and experience the "fairness" for themselves.

Health care is a human right as stated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It is sad that it will be just one more right that will be out of reach for the vast majority of the CNMI's nonresident workers.

With this bill the Commonwealth Health Center can expect to see an increase in indigent patients seeking emergency care. The CNMI should brace for an increase in contagious diseases and illness.


Anonymous said...

"With this bill the Commonwealth Health Center can expect to see an increase in indigent patients seeking emergency care."

This has always been the case with CHC, that's why they're in financial ruin. No one wants to pay. Raise minimum wage to $25.00 / hr. Even at this rate medical bills will still be. Unemployment would reach 75% over night but real businesses could stay open and pay their workers what they deserve.

Anonymous said...

we can't pay for insurance and i can't pay for my meds. i hope help is coming soon.

Angelo Villagomez said...

This will of course affect the foreign workers, but not as much as it will the local government. The hospital can't deny care, so the financial burden will ultimately fall onto the government.

Anonymous said...

The bill supports and proves how CNMI foreign workers get poorly considered, discriminated by Fitial administration and his gangs. Foreign workers are not advised to quit jobs and leave CNMI but are directed how they can get manipulated. Fitial’s gangs are lacking of integrity, sense of humor and dignity. How alien workers are treated in CNMI being US soil can be found anywhere else in the world. I wish and hope soon Mr. Inos and Mr. Kilili will make some real change.

Anonymous said...

hafa adai all and past corrupted governor fitial,now life will teach you about humanity and dignity thats how you call fired your will regrets in your future.your past is corrupted and abused people power and also abused CNMI workers.your past will always reflects in your life.FBI must investigate your past and must put you in monkey house.
powerless RIP fitial.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese national who set himself on fire has been lingering at CHC for a while at the tune of 1.5 million dollars to care for him. CHC has reached out to the People's Republic of China to help repatriate him. They said no. This is what's wrong with CHC. You don't have to pay to receive treatment even if you set yourself on fire. In China like the PI you must pay up front in cash or you die. St. Luke's will place an armed guard at your door and not let anyone in unless you pay.

Anonymous said...

4:03 In a case similar to this Chinese patient, in the Phil. (and many other countries)they would just "pull the plug" and let the patient die especially if not family will claim and pay up front. More so if you are a foreigner.
But from the initial get go after immediate emergency services to stabilize is done (in some case) no money up front no treatment and they will leave you in the hallway, sometimes on a gurney but most times on the floor.

When I was in a Govt. Hospital awhile back for an emergency procedure (later I transferred to a private)my wife had to pay up front, they even woke me up on the operating table to get me to agree to and collect from my wife another $150(US)and to send my wife outside to procure a needed Tracheotomy device I needed, then put it in my throat with local anesthetic only.
Alongside me in the ward was a patient that suffered from a stroke. After they had taken all that his family could muster (about $3500 (US)) they abandoned him in the ward but left him on a bed. His family had to take 100% care of him while his daily (room charges)charges mounted. When he needed any medical treatment the doctor had to be paid in front.
The guy had been in the ward for many months at that time and his bill was more than $9k.

What will happen to this Chinese patient at CHC IF he ever gets shipped back to China which is highly doubtful will happen.
In a case like this I personally would agree with "death with dignity" and let this guy go in peace a with anybody that is terminal.

Anonymous said...

3:08 this won't teach Fitial anything other than crime pays. He draws 20K+ monthly in Luen Thai fishing payments and an unknown amount deposited to his wife's non-profit corp in PI by Bridge and others.