November 6, 2013
The CNMI federal minimum wage should have reached the level of the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 in 2015 if the schedule of the original bill was followed. Thanks to two delay bills introduced by Sablan, the CNMI federal minimum wage will not reach $7.25 until 2018! His most recent delay legislation removed the $.50 hike from both the 2013 the 2015 schedules.
Over 90% of the private sector workforce is made up of legal, long-term nonresident workers. They are the CNMI's disenfranchised underclass who are regularly exploited and denied of basic rights. These are the people who are most impacted by the delay of the federal minimum wage –the voiceless, non-voting foreign workers.
Delegate Sablan, Governor Inos, the Chamber and other CNMI business groups pushed for the delay with the false claim that the CNMI was in a decline, even though numerous Saipan news articles reported a tremendous boom in tourism. (See this post: Economic Truth Revealed After Bill Passes.)
So how did this wage delay come about? Delegate Sablan convinced key members of Congress that the CNMI economy could not bear the increase. He persuaded Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to introduce his bill in the Senate. The delegate persuaded Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to support the bill. In fact, Rep. Miller, who introduced the original CNMI minimum wage bill, read a statement from the floor that contained almost word for word every Sablan talking point.
Making it even more perplexing is the fact that both Wyden and Miller support a separate bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Apparently the poorest wage earners in the U.S. mainland deserve a living wage, but the poorest wage earners in the CNMI, 90% of whom are the non-voting underclass, do not. Not too unjust and discriminatory! But let's not forget that the CNMI has been painted as 'special' to all U.S. officials who have blindly bought that concept.
U.S. workers in the CNMI earning $5.55 qualify for food stamps, medicaid and other federal assistance programs; the nonresident workers do not. They exist in extreme poverty. They will remain that way at least until 2018, thanks to Sablan, Wyden, Murkowski, Miller and every member of the U.S. Congress who callously or ignorantly voted to delay the increase of the CNMI federal minimum wage and to push back the schedule for the next wage increase.
This week Delegate Sablan, who is responsible for not one, but for two scheduled delays of the $.50 federal minimum wage increases, spoke before the Saipan Chamber of Commerce to ask the employers to increase their workers' pay. He made this plea despite the fact that most of the private sector workers would have had an increase in their pay if he hadn't claimed that the booming economy was so bad that it couldn't support a federal minimum wage increase; if he hadn't lobbied members of Congress to support a delay! In fact, if the schedule for annual $.50 increases had been followed as outlined in the original bill, most private sector workers would be earning $6.65 today.
The Marianas Variety reported:
Sablan, who was yesterday’s guest at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce meeting at Sandcastle Hyatt, also asked CNMI legislators to raise the minimum wage “if they want to show they really care.”If he wanted to show he cared he would not have proposed the last delay which was totally a gift to the big business campaign supporters and a stab in the back to the minimum wage earners who are primarily non-voters. MVA reports and other data that revealed an economic boom in the CNMI was not shared with the U.S. officials who were told that a future GAO Report would reveal the state of the economy.
If the Chamber members really cared for their employees, they would not have pushed for the delay of the federal minimum wage. They would not have celebrated it when it came.
I agree that the CNMI minimum wage must be raised. Some small companies are exempt from the federal minimum wage and their workers could be earning the CNMI minimum wage of $3.05 an hour. For the few workers that are paid this ridiculously low rate, an increase is well deserved.
But it was the federal minimum wage increase that was needed to benefit the majority of the poor private sector workers. Sablan bragged to the Chamber that he was responsible for the delay that will cost tens of thousands of the most impoverished CNMI workers to languish in extreme poverty all that much longer. The delegate told them:
“I got your minimum-wage request through, even in the middle of all this Washington gridlock and ‘do-nothing’ Congress.”Yes, he did. If he wanted to he could also get a stand-alone bill to grant permanent residency status to the legal, longterm nonresidents workers through too.
The Marianas Variety also quoted Sablan as saying:
"I’m working to increase food-stamp benefits, because we have 10,000 hungry people but I would rather have those people earning a decent wage so they won’t need food stamps.”Food stamps help hungry U.S. citizens. Hungry nonresident workers do not qualify for food stamps, Medicaid or other federal public assistance programs. The private sector is over 90% nonresidents workers who are poor and hungry. They can thank Delegate Sablan and the U.S. Congress for keeping them that way for at least five more years while the Chamber folks jingle the money in their already deep pockets.