Prevailing Wage Survey a coordinated effort, official says

DEPARTMENT of Commerce-Central Statistics Division Director Justin H. Andrew said this year’s CNMI Prevailing Wage Survey will be a “coordinated effort” with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, which has in turn contracted Hive Analytics, headed by Matt Deleon Guerrero, to implement the survey.

“The request for data submission is done out of the chamber of commerce and their contractor’s side, but the data streams directly from the companies to the Central Statistics Division of the Department of Commerce,” Andrew told Variety.

The team effort developed in response to U.S. Public Law 115-218 which requires that the CNMI produce an annual prevailing wage survey as opposed to following a 24-month cycle.

“The Saipan Chamber of Commerce offered to help the CNMI government by spearheading the implementation of the survey because of the limited time window that the US Department of Labor would accept prevailing wage data before CW-1 applications needed to be submitted,” explained Velma Palacios, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce. “The Prevailing Wage Survey implementation process then became a partnership between the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the CNMI Office of the Governor, the CNMI Department of Commerce Central Statistics Division, and the CNMI Department of Labor.”

“The CNMI government and CNMI business leaders were informed by the U.S. Department of Labor that the latest prevailing wage survey for the CNMI expired on January 1, 2019,” she continued. “Under the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018, the CNMI must have a prevailing wage survey each calendar year in order for USDOL to issue a Temporary Employment Certification.”

In the absence of a valid CNMI prevailing wage, employers will be required to pay CW workers the prevailing wage for the given occupation on Guam, which tends to be significantly higher. The situation is complicated further by the release of new CW regulations, which became effective on April 4th.

“If you…have experience with H-2B visas, a good way to think of this is as an H-2B light process,” Saipan-based attorney George Hasselback said of the new CW application procedure. Hasselback was one of the first on island to raise the alarm about the need for a new prevailing wage report; in late January, he received word from the feds that the CNMI’s prevailing wage report had already expired.

“Some of the questions asked during the various steps are going to be different, but the steps themselves for CW visas are going to be identical to the steps taken to get an H-2B,” he continued. “And you may not be used to dealing with the U.S. Department of Labor as an employer. You may not be used to dealing with some of the some of the items you have to gather, some of the things you have to do. One other important thing to remember about this process now is the process of recruitment. [It] all has to take place after you get that temporary labor certification.”

“So you have to go through step one and step two, before you can even begin to do your local advertisement, a process that we are used to doing. But…this system will be much more specific; you will receive a list of things to do from United States Department of Labor, and 21 days to do those things. And all that is a prerequisite. It’s a gate-keeping function before you even get to apply for the visa with USCIS.”

This longer list of CW to-do’s has employers itching to begin their application processes, but some members of the business community are advising them to wait for the results of the 2019 CNMI prevailing wage survey so that local wages aren’t artificially inflated by Guam’s data.

Matt Deleon Guerrero and president of the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation Alex Sablan explained their perspectives on the situation at the NMI chapter general membership meeting of the Society for Human Resource Management on Wednesday, April 10 at Charley’s Cabaret at PIC.

“When we went to Washington, D.C. we were told that [regarding] the prevailing wage for the Commonwealth for the CW-1 program, the current prevailing wage would not be utilized because it was not taken within [the year],” Sablan said. “We need to conduct the prevailing wage survey to capture wages in this particular calendar year.”

“We have been sitting through the methodology discussions with the U.S. Department of Labor, to get to where we’re at today with the actual survey,” he continued. “And to make it…as efficient as possible, as concise as possible…”

“The previous way…took six months — we’re trying to do this in several weeks,” said Deleon Guerrero. His plan is to collect data by asking employers to fill out their employee wage information online at

“The deadline is April 22,” he told the SHRM general membership meeting attendees. “So if you do not submit your survey by April 22, two things will probably happen; Number one is your information won’t be counted. And when your information is not counted, it makes it difficult for us to reach the benchmarks that are set by U.S. DOL. And that’s three companies with 30 employees each… the fewer amount of survey respondents we get this period is going to affect the ability for us to publish your particular occupations’ prevailing wage, which will either extend the timeframe in which you’re looking at applying for CWs, or have you refer to the Guam wage if you’re unable to do that.”

“If we don’t get respondents from your occupation codes enough to meet the requirements of DOL, then we’re going to issue out another survey for a one-week period, potentially,” Deleon Guerrero continued. “If we can capture as many people as possible within those two periods, then that’d be great. We’ll cover the gamut. If not, then we’ll have another period. But every time that you and your fellow employers aren’t submitting, then it affects the ability for us to calculate those wages. So it’s in your interest to try to reach out through the SHRM [Society for Human Resources Management] network or through other networks and make sure that people are filling out the form. And we tried to make it as simple as possible.”