A Living Wage is a Human Right

August 7,  2013

“Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.” Article 23 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

What were the Democratic U.S. Senators thinking when they pushed through S. 256 that would delay the federal minimum wage increases in the CNMI?

That action conflicts with the Democratic platform and the President's agenda. That action, if signed into law will continue the struggle of the CNMI's lowest paid wage earners –those who work full-time, but do not even earn enough to be even considered "middle class" by U.S. standards. The majority of the private sector workers are paid the federal minimum wage of $5.55 an hour, poverty level wages.

The same members who introduced S. 256 in the Senate and the companion bill in the House also co-sponsored the Senate and House bills calling for the federal minimum wage to be increased to $10.10.

President Obama is criss-crossing the nation to speak out for the rapidly shrinking middle class and promoting an increase in the federal minimum wage. Members of the middle class in America today are seeing their savings accounts dwindle, their earnings unable to keep up with inflation and their overall quality of life diminishing. Wall Street, banks, and corporations have enriched themselves disproportionately by sticking it to the middle class.

The situation is much worse for the minimum wage earners in the CNMI.

Government policies have ensured that upward mobility for middle class Americans has stopped. More and more members of the middle class live from paycheck to paycheck. The American Dream is elusive to many in the middle class who can not afford to own a home, pay for their children's college, enroll in medical insurance, save for retirement or even buy enough food on a regular basis.

In 2009, 22,000 households that made more than $1 million paid less than 15% of their income in income taxes and 1,450 households paid zero in federal taxes. Today 39 percent of the wealth is controlled by the top one percent of Americans.

Michael Hacker from The Daily Orange painted a vivid picture of the decline of the middle class:
In the past 30 years, there have been major tax cuts for high-income Americans that, when compared to tax cuts for the middle class, are much larger as a proportion of income. 
There has been a decline in real minimum wage, which remains well below the level of a livable income. 
Unions have been demonized and disbanded in efforts driven by federal policy. 
Since 1999, there has been critical deregulation of the financial industry. This deregulation took place even though high-income earners come disproportionally from the financial industry.
Clearly, the decline in the minimum wage, which, as Hacker stated, is not a livable wage, has had the most devastating impact on the poor and middle class. It has also had a devastating impact of the fraying of our democracy. The U.S. democracy "of the people, by the people, for the people" is nonexistent today. Perhaps of the rich, by the rich and for the rich would be a better description of our current political system.

There is presently a sentiment in America that the wealthy, the corporations and the big businesses deserve a stronger voice in our democracy than the average man or woman. Most of the current members of Congress support and promote this position by favoring the voters and voting blocks who can contribute the most to their campaigns. The rich and powerful have the money to lobby to influence policy and push their agendas, often at the expense of the middle class and the poor. (Think pharmaceutical companies, the NRA, Wall Street, big banks, etc. or in the CNMI the Chamber of Commerce and HANMI, the Tan family, etc.)

"No one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty." 
–President Barack Obama'

The CNMI is an example of how government policy and the desires of the wealthy business owners have promoted a society of the haves and the have nots with a disproportionate underclass whose majority consists of the disenfranchised and voiceless foreign workers. The CNMI runs like a bee hive with an elite minority of queen bees ruling over a vast majority of worker bees.

Does a minimum wage of $5.55 provide a worker and his or her family a proper quality of life or dignity? No.

Low wages promote poverty. The CNMI's per capita income in 2010 was $9,656 as compare to the U.S. per capita income of $46,616. The 2010 Census reveals that the majority, 51 percent of the population of the CNMI, lives below the poverty level! Raising the federal minimum wage would ensure that eventually the lowest paid laborers could be lifted out of poverty.

Low wages promote disease and ill-health.  A whooping thirty three percent of CNMI residents have no health insurance.

Low wages promote food insecurity.  An estimated 19 percent of CNMI families are enrolled in the food stamps with many more being eligible but not receiving benefits.

Low wages create stagnation in the economy. The more money workers have, the more that they can spend to support business and economic growth.

Low wages are a major reason that people leave the CNMI. Even the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour ($15,080 annual salary) looks better than the CNMI federal minimum wage of $5.55 ($11,544 annual salary). An extra $3,500 a year could greatly increase the quality of life, even though the wages are still poverty level wages.

President Obama supports the idea that prosperity has to come from the middle out rather than from the top down. He believes that the trend to squeeze out the middle class could be reversed with the right polices. On July 24, 2013, in an address in Galesburg, Illinois, the President said:
"I want to make sure that all of us in Washington are investing as much time, as much energy, as much debate on how we grow the economy and grow the middle class as we've spent over the last two to three years arguing about how we reduce the deficits," Obama said. He called for a shift "away from what I think has been a damaging framework in Washington."
Using a stalled economy as an excuse to delay an increase in minimum wage is not valid. Some of the county's most esteemed economists have written a letter to President Obama supporting an increase in the minimum wage. Among the ten economists advocating for an increase in the federal minimum wage are Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor; Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate, Professor of Economics, Columbia University; and Lawrence Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute.

From the July 2012 letter:
In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market. A minimum wage increase can also serve to stimulate the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings potentially raising demand and job growth. Therefore, pursuing a higher minimum wage at this juncture will not only provide raises for low-wage workers but would provide some help on the jobs front as well.
Good employers pay fair wages. Speaking about an increase in the New York minimum wage, Costco Senior Vice President Jeff Long said, “At Costco, we know good wages are good business. We keep our overhead low while still paying a starting wage of $11 an hour. Our employees are a big reason why our sales per square foot is almost double that of our nearest competitor. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable for the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize productivity and commitment, product value, customer service and company reputation.”

It is time that the policy makers stop making excuses to promote a livable and fair federal minimum wage, whether it is in the CNMI or across the nation.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

"A living wage is a human right" It should be. Part of the problem in the NMI is that people are afraid to disagree with people they like. Most people like Kilili and won't out him when he errs. He has a nasty temperment and holds grudges. Thanks for speaking out. Your right, of course.

Angelo Villagomez said...

Everyone in CNMI government who doesn't have a college degree should get the minimum wage.

Wendy Doromal said...

Angelo, I don't get this comment!

In the CNMI there are foreign workers who have masters who earn the $5.55 minimum wage. If they work for a company that makes less than $500,000 a year they earn the lower CNMI minimum wage. Some highly skilled professionals earn minimum wage because they are foreign workers, couldn't find a job in their country and took whatever position they could get in the CNMI just to survive. I met a domestic worker who had multiple college degrees.

There are many skilled jobs that may not require college degrees, but are typically highly paid. (Not necessarily in the CNMI) I know mechanics, plumbers, electricians, masons, chefs, and carpenters who did not go to college, but who are amazingly skilled in their professions. One of my sons went to college for two years and he earns more than twice as much as I do.

No one who works full-time at any job should earn less than a livable wage regardless of their education or their position. There is a snobbery in America that says the people who work in the fields, who clean our public restrooms, who cut the grass, who wait on us deserve the terrible wages that they receive. What would happen if we had no one to fill these positions? Why don't they deserve to be paid a fair wage? Why do we allow our farm workers to be paid 50 cents per 32 bucket of tomatoes? The people who put food on our tables often do not have enough money to buy food. That is not okay with me.

If you do a job (any job) well, you deserve a fair wage.

Anonymous said...

That letter from the economists dispels the excuse that business owners and politicians use to keep the wage down. It's not true that businesses will close or employes will lose jobs if the minimum wage goes up. They just want BIG profits at the expense of the poor workers.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the point Wendy. Anyone who does not have a college degree should get minimum wage IF they are elected into office. They are the ones who determine wages and pass vital laws. Snobbery? A union welder in New York makes $230,000 a year, plumbers are a close second. A journeyman carpenter makes $35.00/hr in California. I believe what Angelo is saying is that CNMI Government officials whom most have no college degree need to know what it feels like to make minimum wage before passing any judgement. What degree does Kilili have ? A law degree? He's either already a millionaire or close to it.

Anonymous said...

The influx of people who are willing to take a minimal wage job are the issue. A vast majority of those workers are unskilled foriegn nationals. this drives down wages across industries. Many studies bear this out it the trades. For example, construction trades covering roofers, painter, drywallers et al. The few non union manufacturing jobs are another industry hit by wage suppressions. Thiese arent jobs that Americans wont take, @heck they did them up until the mass influx of of recent, post 1986 illegal low skilled workers. Wages will not be rising when 20 to 30 million more low skilled uneducated workers enter the work force competing with non college educated whites and african americans for those few jobs out there. take away the emotions and look at all the data, not data compiped to meet an agenda, but real data combed from multiple sources and that is the not so rosy picture pf what awaits those Americans who are already un- or underemployed.......

Anonymous said...

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/americans-giving-passports-jump-sixfold-105958873.html

Wealthy Americans want out, the middle class is stuck to their jobs for health care and the debt payments, and the poor want to move in.

That isn't meant to be sarcastic as it is an observation and growing trend

Wendy Doromal said...

9:32 Okay I get what you are saying!

Anonymous said...

its an poor killie/cnmi politics game to cheat all in cnmi....cheap dirty minded publicity rep. shame on,,,amen

Anonymous said...

I suppose human rights activist and CW champions Glen Hunter and Tina Sablan will be paying a contract worker, if they hire one for their new cafe, at least $15.00 an hour which is a working wage to live a decent life on Saipan. How about the maids and nannies that CW rights activists have in their homes ? What do they make ? Do the CW welders at SeaFix make what a welder in the US would make ? No I'll bet that they all make minimum wage or just barely above that. These are some tough questions for these "activists" who will no doubt dance around the questions, especially the ones who have started a business and now by some miracle actually understand what overhead, expenses, medical and everything else really costs. You know what is on their mind after investing tens of thousands of dollars ? You guessed it - BIG profits. The ONLY critics of wages are Government employees who spend their days on FB, writing long winded letters to the editor or planting trees for 35k a year. Pay each and everyone of them minimum wage and make them earn a raise for a change.

Wendy Doromal said...

4:45 Why single out specific people? Do you have facts? Did you ask the people that you are targeting if they employ foreign workers? Did you ask how much they pay? This comment looks like an unjustified attack. . .

Anonymous said...

A lot of these activists have singled out specific people and businesses. Look back at Pragmatic Plato blog site. Everyone knows who the author is because Zaldy from Variety got an email by mistake and the author was on it. He will deny it of course but it is the truth. That blogger destroyed peoples' reputations, businesses and slug insults at families. These people are angry. You are right about making a working wage Wendy but what everyone needs to see is if they will actually follow through. Really though if they do hire a contract worker wouldn't you want to see what they are making? Medical, dental? Everything a human being deserves. Oh, go ahead and look into welders at companies like SeaFix. What do they make an hour ? Look it up, nothing wrong with that is there ?

This goes back to the Woodruff example. An activist holding hands with them yet turned out to be a total crook. Even you supported and praised him back in the day.

BTW, I support you and your cause - you have heart.

Wendy Doromal said...

12:23 You are criticizing people for anonymous websites when you comment anonymously. Your arguments would make sense if you had something to back them up. If you have any data or facts please share; if not you are just making assumptions and unfounded allegations on innocent people. Zaldy Dandan is the editor of a newspaper so he should understand the importance of not identifying sources. Yet you claim that he outed an anonymous blogger? Really? You claim that certain businesses like SeaFix pay little, but you appear not to actually know this.

Again, the point is that everyone should make a living wage -shame on ANY business that does not pay a fair wage, no matter who the employer is.

As far as Woodruff - he made some good points on worker rights, for which received praise and he made some seriously harmful statements, for which received harsh criticism (from me). He ripped off innocent workers by taking their cases and money and not appearing in court and/or filing papers. (I know this because some communicated with me and I referred them to others for help.) There is absolutely no excuse for this. What is it with attorneys preying on the poorest of the poor? In the early 1990s another attorney, Dennis O'Shea, did the very same thing to innocent workers who were referred to him by a human rights advocate from the Catholic Church. I lost over $800 paying fees for workers and myself that I never got back. Exploitation reigns in the CNMI!

Anonymous said...

No I am not criticizing him or them for being anonymous and Zaldy did not out him - he mistakenly outed himself. Ask around.

These people can be vicious and vindictive that's why people will criticize them without revealing their identity. For the most part they are just a pesky nuisance but later after relentless attacks on blogs, day after day, hour after hour people get hurt. Some even start as early at 2 AM !

As for those who work on the MSC ships they are making MUCH less than their US counterparts. This is absolutely shameful, disrespectful and possibly even illegal. Saipan is not Singapore or Malaysia. It is the United States. These are the same contract workers that you fight for, so go ask the questions Wendy. If any of these activists hire contract workers ask them what they are being paid ? A human wage ? Or minimum barely making it wage. See what you can do but be aware that if you dig a bit they will put you on their list. You have personally moved Congress and that is an amazing feat. You changed lives.

Anonymous said...

BTW, years back when I contracted Seafix to come and do a repair job on Tinian (one day job)the minimum wage at that time was $3.05 and their CW welder/machinist was getting a little over $9hr.
At that same time I was paying average construction worker$6.00+hr with higher for equipment operators and other specialty trade along with Staywell insurance, company paid.
All lived out. Salary was the same for the respective jobs classification regardless if CW or US Cit.Those who qualified also got a housing allowance.

Some other companies also were about the same and also many on Saipan were. BUT there were also many companies that paid all the Min. $3.05 regardless of job description.

BTW Seafix is not my favorite company, but they do a good job (on the whole)and have the correct tools to accomplish field repairs but charge an arm and a leg.
This is one of the companies that possibly look for a 500% profit margin (or higher)

Anonymous said...

As far as Zaldy goes, I would not trust him as if it is not his way it is the highway.
He is a very vindictive person if not in agreement with him.

Not saying he(Zaldy)did "out" this person but wouldn't put that past him.
BUT evidently he did "out" this person as it is known about the "mistaken" e-mail by the person in question.

Anonymous said...

$9.00 / hr for a professional welder is a joke and I am NOT referring to Tinian or some bicycle shop welder. SF does a great job because they have some real talent there. What I am talking about are the welders and other laborers that work on the MSC ships - from any one of the supposed required three bidders. What are those CW welders / fitters making per hour ? $45? $65$ $85 ? Not what they are being billed out at. That is different. Those useless Feds need to make sure that any company that works on those MSC ships uses US Citizens and pays them exactly what a welder would make in the US. Does a Federal worker on Saipan make less that their counterpart in DC ? Didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

8:40, your point is well taken.
BTW ANY US Govt. contract job has to pay it's workers the Davis Bacon for the area wage.

I remember that I once found it online by districts and broken down by job category and in the different areas in the US and territories.

In the CNMI it is Guam rate as there is no rate specifically for NMI.
That wage rate is required for CW or US Cit. as it was/is for the IBB sites and other DOD projects in regards to the contractor who operates and maintains the site.
Same goes for Guam DOD contracts.

I believe it is still Rome contracted for the IBB sites as the initial first 5 yrs was Boeing.
They bid that project on only local wages and had to go to Davis Bacon wage, but the clause was there for the Feds. (Voice of America) to pay the contractor accordingly to any mandatory wage changes or union negotiated wages increase..

SO in regards to those preposition ships, if it is found out that the workers are only getting local wages while actually performing work on those ships or shop projects connected to those ships I would surmise that the contractor would be liable to pay the appropriate wage and any past compensation.
There also would be repercussions along with any applicable Fed. and local taxes etc.

What will be interesting and to watch closely would be any Military contracts such as the Air force Alternate field and/or the Marines training facilities construction contract awarded to private companies.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with a previous poster that the influx of workers willing to work for min wage is the problem. If we increase the minimum wage and continue the CW visa in its current form, many experienced teachers, nurses, engineers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, will simple be paid $7.45/hr. instead of $5.05/hr. Allowing recruitment experienced and degreed workers for less than comparable U.S. salaries (which no other U.S. work visa except the CW visa allows)is the primary cause of people leaving the CNMI.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:04AM

Your absolutely wrong. The problem is not the CWs accepting the min wage. CWs have no right to bargain nor right to elect the people they know will protect them. It's the residents fault! They just chew what is put in their mouths. They're so dumb to realize that UScit workers will suffer more in the end than CWs.

Anonymous said...

I think the bloggers talking about minimum wage have gone too far with regards to minimum wage.Let us first know what a MINIMUM WAGE is. And why is it that the minimum wage here in Saipan which is considered US soil which is $5.55/hour is applicable to almost all categories like carpenters,plumbers,masons,electricians,janitors or commercial cleaners,teachers or I mean skilled,unskilled and even Professional workers have the same MINIMUM WAGE? I think even the nurses and the X-ray Tech. are being petitioned for CW whose wage are the min. of $5.55/hour. Correct me if i'm wrong and sorry if I am.

Anonymous said...

A minimum wage should be for entry level workers, such as high school students for jobs that have high turnover. The reason why Saipan businesses offer the minimum wage for skilled workers such as teachers, accountants, nurses, engineers, electricians, construction workers and others is because they can. There is an endless supply of workers from abroad willing to work for $5.55/hr., and the CW visa allows it. Why does the same thing not happen in the mainland? Because there is no visa that will allow a skilled worker to be paid less than the true market wage if a foreign worker is recruited from abroad. I don't blame the foreign worker for not having better options, I blame the CW visa itself for not having prevailing wage requirements based on job category, experience, and education.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:48AM
You hit the nail right on its head! The CW visa itself is to be blamed for not having prevailing wage requirements based on job category, experience, and education. And because it's for CWs only, nobody cares, not knowing of big impact on residents worker too!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the CW extension will not be extended.
If this is the case then the needed workers will have to be kept (brought in) under an existing work visa such as the "H" visa.

The "H" visa has wage requirements that are based on the job classification.

If this happens it may in fact make the annual increase (delay) in minimum wage redundant.

By these business owners lobbying Kilili and Inos to defer the minimum wage increase they may have in fact helped raise the wages for many, IF an extension for a CW permit is NOT approved.

Another thing is also that if truly these business were actually worried about their CW workers they could petition for a green card for their workers in many cases.

The main problem with this route is that the majority of "sponsored" green card workers do leave for the US after a two year period.

Over the many years that there have been mandated increases in minimum wages I have read and heard the same arguments against the increase from all over.

In Hawaii they used the same excuse that it would hurt the bad economy each time, but live still went on.
I have read about it in articles and heard about it on international news in the past.
Nothing has changed in the argument only the location.

Wait and see if this new increase is passed ($10 per hr)and listen to what the US business arguments against the increase will be. Same as here.

The problem in the NMI has been that while the elected have, over the years increased the wages for the Govt. employees, they have kept the private sector wages below poverty level to insure "cheap labor" while ensureing that few locals will work in the private sector or take any action in regards to training available locally.

REMEMBER this was all done while the NMI economy was booming and money was flowing.
Ask Willy Tan!! Fital and Inos among many others.