Marianas Variety

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    Tuesday, July 17, 2018-8:24:08P.M.






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Editorials 2017-August-11

NMI has reason and facts on its side

WHATEVER your opinion about local workforce issues, it should be obvious that abruptly cutting off the NMI’s labor supply will have an immediate and disastrous impact on the local economy — and the government’s ability to pay its obligations and provide critical services to the local people.

The local population is still small. It is, moreover, not that easy to persuade over 12,000 U.S. workers from the other territories or the states, which pay much higher wages, to immediately uproot themselves and move to a remote, small island hundreds or thousands of miles away. And raising local wages to U.S. levels without first creating an economy that can afford such rates is economic suicide.

Some U.S. senators have noted that the NMI has 2,400 unemployed U.S. workers which supposedly made it a “hard sell” to ask for more CW slots. Surely, the senators are not saying that the NMI can or should force anyone to get not just a job, but a specific job and to stick to it as long as he or she is needed for that position. In the U.S., which has over 300 million people and the world’s largest economy, there are close to 7 million unemployed, according to official data. Can the U.S. senators say that these individuals should be compelled to become nurses, construction workers, farm workers, etc. so that America can stop hiring guest workers or illegal aliens for such jobs?

The CNMI is not asking much. The Obama and Trump administrations support the CNMI’s workforce requests. The U.S. House of Representatives seems approachable. But in the U.S. Senate, at least one key member has expressed concern because of what the CNMI supposedly was…in the 1990s.

So perhaps the CNMI should remind U.S. senators that federal immigration and minimum wage laws now apply to these islands; that the last garment factory closed in 2009; that the number of guest workers has plummeted from over 30,000 to less than 13,000; that the private sector now has more locals and other U.S. qualified workers; that local wages are increasing; that training programs to expand the local workforce are ongoing; that the few labor and immigration violators have been quickly identified, arrested and/or charged by U.S. authorities; that the commonwealth is helping the feds address other labor and immigration issues; and that drastically shrinking the labor pool will wipe out the hard-earned economic gains of the past few years and inflict hardship on the U.S. citizens who call these islands home.

Another thing

THE CNMI has got to be more detailed about its current workforce needs. Any request for more construction workers, for example, should be project-specific and permits should be for the short-term only. CNMI businesses, CHCC and CUC, for their part, should provide the U.S. Congress with comprehensive information about their ongoing efforts to hire more local and other U.S. workers. They should join up with a new local business group that is collecting such information and help spread the word in the nation’s capital about present-day realities in the CNMI.

Circumstances change

UNLIKE the Ten Commandments, human laws are not inscribed on stone tablets, and can be either repealed or amended. It is not wise to bind future generations to laws that may no longer serve their interests or are unsuitable to the world they live in.

Consider the federalization law or CNRA. It states, among other things, that in “recognition of the Commonwealth’s unique economic circumstances, history, and geographical location, it is the intent of the Congress that the Commonwealth be given as much flexibility as possible in maintaining existing businesses and other revenue sources, and developing new economic opportunities….” CNRA also aims to “provid[e] a mechanism for the continued use of alien workers, to the extent those workers continue to be necessary to supplement the Commonwealth’s resident workforce.”

CNRA provided for a transition period the commencement of which could be delayed. It likewise created what is now known as the CW program and allowed for its extension.

Since the law was enacted, the CNMI’s economy has changed, happily, for the better. So now the CNMI is asking for an additional 5,000 or so CWs and another extension of the program, this time for 10 years — both of which can be reduced or scrapped down the road depending on the circumstances which are ever changing.

CNMI leaders, in any case, are well within their rights to ask the U.S. Congress to change federal law or rules that directly affect the commonwealth and its U.S. citizens.