Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 23 Mar 2019 12am







    Friday, March 22, 2019-12:50:21A.M.






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Variations | Delusion

POLITICAL discourse is usually about non-solutions to long-standing problems because many politicians, like voters, believe that they are not long-standing problems.

Consider the recent CNMI Senate discussion on the lack of workers for certain CUC power plant jobs.

How many politicians since the TT days have orated on the need for training local residents? How many training programs since the TT days have been implemented, and how many are being carried out as you read this?

But whenever politicians discuss this issue what we usually hear are sweeping banalities. Never mind details, nuances, the facts on the ground. The point is usually to make a political point especially in an election year. Instead of elevating the public conversation, educating themselves and voters, some politicians prefer to wallow in popular misconceptions that, then and now, will not solve anything.

So we end up arguing about certain issues again and again.

At the Senate session last week, it was the chairman of the utilities committee who pointed out what should have been painfully obvious: hiring local workers for certain CUC jobs is “not that simple and it’s not that easy — CUC tried that already. [It] removed foreign workers and replaced them with local people, but we still need certain skilled workers.”

As this newspaper has repeatedly mentioned in the past, the “problem” is that there are not enough local or U.S. workers for certain jobs. The indigenous population is over 15,000 only, and that number includes children, students and the already employed. Moreover, like their counterparts in the other territories and the states, local residents have other career options. In addition, they can move to the other territories and the states. They have plenty choices. And they are free to choose.

Over 10 years ago, amid daily power outages and a sputtering economy, the CNMI Senate unanimously passed a bill that allowed CUC to hire at least 19 guest workers for the power plants. The then-Senate president told his colleagues that some of the local workers at CUC “are already burned out; they don’t want to come back anymore; they’re physically and mentally tired; some are already resigning or retiring; they don’t care about [overtime pay] anymore.” Another senator said she, like other CNMI officials, supported local hiring “but CUC can’t hire locally” for certain power plant jobs.  CUC, she noted, “is required to hire local mechanics and technicians. ‘But our local population is not big enough.’ ”

CUC had told lawmakers that the Legislature’s failure to allow the agency to retain its 20 guest workers in 2007 “dramatically” affected its power generation division’s operations. These nonresidents worked at the power plant as mechanical and electrical technicians. CUC “has yet to replace them, and now most of its staff have been overworked and are planning to retire.”

Sen. Paul A. Manglona, who chaired the utilities committee, said  “the people will continue to suffer if we delay [the bill’s passage.] We have to work with CUC.”

The “solution” then and now is simple. Hire qualified workers, U.S. or nonresident, who want to be hired for power plant jobs. Continue and expand the training programs. Allow the economy to thrive so it can afford to pay higher wages.

Of course some will insist that the “solution” is to mandate higher wages to attract U.S. workers from other jurisdictions, including the states. They, however, will not say anything about the current workforce shortage in the states which are already offering high wage rates.

In a recent report, National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson said:

“Where I am standing is in the parking lot of a Chick-fil-A in Midland, Texas, where I have stopped to take a photo of the big sign out front, which doesn’t say anything about specials on chicken sandwiches: It says ‘$13 an hour,’ which is the starting wage at many fast-food establishments here. They have a tough time filling those jobs, because working in the oil business, even in a semi-skilled capacity, pays a heck of a lot more than that: One company right now is offering new drivers with Class-A commercial drivers’ licenses $20,000 bonuses. Other companies will take anybody with a clean driving record and train him to get [a commercial driver’s license].”

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Foxconn Technology, the Taiwanese supplier to Apple Inc., “is considering bringing in personnel from China to help staff a large facility under construction in southern Wisconsin as it struggles to find engineers and other workers in one of the tightest labor markets in the U.S.”

The report added, “Labor shortages are a national challenge. In September, employers nationwide had more than a million more unfilled job openings, at 7.01 million, than there were unemployed workers, according to the Labor Department…. Finding skilled labor is proving to be a problem nationwide…. Wisconsin employers are improving benefits and offering more perks to avoid having Foxconn poach their workers. … Foxconn is actively engaged with high schools and local colleges to produce the workers it will need at the plant when it is completed.”

Loretta Olson, who owns an Express Employment Professionals staffing office in Racine, Wis., said: “All the technical schools and local universities are gearing up their programs, but I still think Foxconn is going to fall short in terms of finding the people they need…. They’re going to have to recruit from outside the area.”

But even prospective guest workers from China are not that eager to relocate to Wisconsin despite the high wage rates. Imagine that.

Yet in the CNMI, some will continue to insist that these faraway islands situated in typhoon alley and with an itsy bitsy economy can actually lure hundreds if not thousands of statesiders to work here for at least a year or two.

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