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Variations: Once more unto the breach

SOME say the federal CW program is temporary. Sure. But the 2008 federalization law provided for an extension of the transition period:

“(5)(A) Not later than 180 days prior to the expiration of the transition period, or any extension thereof, the Secretary of Labor, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Governor of the Commonwealth, shall ascertain the current and anticipated labor needs of the Commonwealth and determine whether an extension of up to 5 years of the provisions of this subsection is necessary to ensure an adequate number of workers will be available for legitimate businesses in the Commonwealth.” (My italics.)

In Dec. 2014, the U.S. Congress removed that provision. But it doesn’t prevent further extensions. These, however, will now require U.S. congressional approval.

The only reason the CNMI is asking for an extension now is because losing over 12,000 workers in the next two years will result in an economic depression. Not all, and not even a lot, of those workers can qualify for other U.S. work visas which were designed for employers in the world’s largest economy.

Perhaps the feds can create a new work visa for the CNMI only, with a new name, a new set of conditions and fees. Anything. As long as it will allow legitimate, law-abiding CNMI employers to get the workers they need under federal immigration and wage rules.

Some say the CNMI has had 10 years to “prepare” for the current lack of workers. But 10 years ago, the economy was shrinking. Many employers didn’t need more workers — they could barely retain those workers they had. The CNMI in 2008 is way different from the CNMI today. (If you told anyone back then that Rota and Tinian senators would agree to pass a Saipan casino legalization bill you would have been considered insane.)

How can we possibly blame anyone for failing to “prepare” for something no one could have possibly foreseen 10 years ago? Moreover, 10 years ago, many believed that improved immigration status for qualified long-term guest workers would happen soon. The Interior Department supported it. From 2009 to 2011, a Democrat was in the White House and the party had majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress. “Not if but when,” guest worker advocates said, referring to improved status for long-term CNMI guest workers.

In those days, lack of workers was not on the list of major concerns on the part of employers who were more worried about staying afloat.

Some insist: replace CWs with U.S workers!

From a June 2017 Associated Press news report:

“Though construction is in high demand in Texas’ booming capital city, Oscar Martinez’s drywall company is suddenly struggling.

“One-third of the approximately 20 employees Martinez uses to build new homes and commercial spaces have recently fled the state, spooked by a combination of a federal immigration crackdown by the Trump administration and a tough anti-‘sanctuary cities’ law approved last month by Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature.

“ ‘I took a big hit since my workers started hearing crazy stories about being deported, and they panicked,’ said Martinez, who relies on immigrants in the U.S. illegally for labor and has failed to find replacements for the physically grueling, precise work. ‘The Americans I hire can’t last in this job more than half a day,’ Martinez said.”

According to the same AP report, “The issue is particularly pronounced in Texas because it’s a conservative state and has one of the largest populations of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally…. The biggest industry to take a hit from the immigration crackdown is construction. About half of that industry’s workers are in the U.S. illegally, according to the immigrant-rights organization Workers Defense Project.”

Yahoo! Finance reported in August:

“American companies can’t seem to hire workers fast enough.

“And this problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

“In August, data processing firm ADP reported that 237,000 jobs were added to the private sector during the month, topping expectations from Wall Street economists. According to ADP’s data, over 1.7 million jobs have been added since the start of the year.

“ ‘The job market continues to power forward,’ said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics after Wednesday’s report was released. ‘Job creation is strong across nearly all industries, company sizes. Mounting labor shortages are set to get much worse.’

“As [reported] earlier this year, data has shown that not only have there never been more jobs available, but it’s never been harder to fill those roles.”

In May 2017, the New York Times reported that “Lack of Workers, Not Work, Weighs on the Nation’s Economy”:

“SALT LAKE CITY — Stephanie Pappas and her brothers built their roofing supply company in this fast-growing region by promising next-day delivery, but lately they’ve been forced to tell some customers that tomorrow is impossible.

“Their company, Roofers Supply, employs 28 drivers across Utah, and Ms. Pappas said she would need at least 15 more to meet the exploding demand for shingles and tiles. The company has raised its starting wage by 10 percent since the beginning of the year to $17.50 an hour, but it’s not enough.

“ ‘We never want to have to say we can’t do it, but we need people,’ Ms. Pappas said.”

Writing for The Hill in June 2017, Ross Carey stated:

“Small business owners are struggling to find and retain quality employees, a development that’s hindering their ability to invest and grow. A whopping 61 percent of owners we surveyed said they’re experiencing extreme or moderate difficulty finding quality employees to expand their business. The concern is particularly acute in rural areas; however, urban small business owners also cite the lack of skilled employees as a problem.”

Arthur Guarino, an assistant professor in the finance and economics department at Rutgers University Business School, wrote in Sept. 2017 that “[d]iverse industries are looking for both skilled and unskilled workers to fill immediate workforce needs or else consumers will begin to see food prices increase, longer wait times for product fulfillment, and services uncompleted.” The bottom-line, he added, “is that America needs more workers or else its economy will suffer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics…reported that the United States will need 3 million more workers in the next ten years to fill low-skilled jobs so that the country will achieve economic growth. The problem is that the total number of workers entering the labor force at all skill levels, between the ages of 25 and 54, will be 1.7 million. If this does in fact occur, then the United States will not see 2 percent economic growth for many decades to come.”

In its report in May 2017, the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office stated that when the federal CW program ends in Dec. 2019, the CNMI’s unemployed domestic workforce, estimated at 2,386 in 2016, will be well below the demand for labor. If all CWs were removed from the labor market, the report added, the result would be a 26 to 62 percent reduction in the CNMI’s gross domestic product.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, America’s “real GDP fell more than 25 percent, erasing all of the economic growth of the previous quarter century.”

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