Tuesday, May 29, 2007

91. Some Thoughts on the Proposed Alien Labor Bill

H.B. 15-38. AvailableHere . It's called the Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007, but it's all about alien labor. I haven't been invited to comment on it in my official job, so I can't submit these comments to the Legislature. But as a citizen and human being, I can speak my mind here.

I've made it through the first 10 pages of 63. The bill is long enough to suggest that it took some sincere effort. And I appreciate that.

But from what I've read so far, I already feel sick to my stomach from it.

This bill can't be good because it is based on assumptions that are wrong, assumptions that start with a view of our economic woes through the wrong end of the scope, assumptions aimed at rooting out the evils caused by those d___ foreigners we bring in to work for us, assumptions that are foolish and immoral.

Here are some things in the "findings and purposes" section that rankle:

"The employment preference for citizens and permanent residents is implemented by clarifying and improving provisions of the current law, such as limiting public sector jobs to citizens and permanent residents...requiring that employers provide jobs to citizens and permanent residents ...at least 20% of the work force, and restructuring the moratorium on new hiring of foreign nationals..."

WRONG. #1. This law will not help get locals into the labor force. Locals and permanent residents will continue to rush to the mainland where they can earn $7.25 per hour or more. What will get them into the local labor force are higher wages and better working conditions. Until employers are FORCED to provide these, no amount of law or administration is going to improve the preference for hiring locals. Locals don't want the bad jobs, and cheap foreign laborers complains less, are easier to dupe and scare into obedience, and are still readily available.

WRONG. #2. Employers must hire locals in numbers that make up at least 20%?!! That's the ratio of local workers to foreign workers we are aiming for? Four foreign workers for every local? Do you think locals want to work in those conditions? Do you think our US. citizens and permanent residents want to be the outcast, the minority, at work on our islands? Better to head to the US. Our Chamorros, Carolinians, Chuukese, Palauans, etc. will be a minority there, but they'll earn more and get full rights.

WRONG. #3. Restructuring the moratorium is a load of waffle. Set a moratorium and enforce it. Stop cheating.

"This employment preference is promoted by effective job referral services...effective advertising...and effective training to qualify citizen and permanent resident employees for jobs that require special skills."

WRONG. #1. What makes you think that we can have effective job referral services with a new law. We have a law. We have a job referral office. It doesn't work. The problem is not that workers aren't signing up for jobs. The problem is not that referrals aren't being made. The problem is that employers WANT TO HIRE ALIEN WORKERS. We don't need to fix the government office or train the workers. We need to force an attitude change on the employers. WE NEED TO TAKE AWAY CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR. Otherwise, there will never be good jobs for our local people in the CNMI.

WRONG # 2. We can qualify our local population for skilled jobs, but if we allow employers to pay minimum wage for these jobs, because alien workers will accept the jobs at that price, we will never get our local population into the jobs. Accountants at minimum wage. Engineers at minimum wage. Paralegals at minimum wage. Nurses earning far below stateside standards. We will never get our local population into these jobs. W ell, at least not here. And the brain drain will continue and get worse.


"The Covenant envisioned the employment of foreign nationals ...to create an economic base that would provide the citizens ...the economic opportunities and standard of living that their counterparts on the mainland enjoy..."

WRONG. #1. The Covenant envisioned that the CNMI would strictly limit immigration. The reason for local control was to allow fewer aliens into the CNMI than might come in under U.S. control, not to allow more. We screwed up.

WRONG #2. Are we really going to pass a law that says we're using the poor of the world to enrich ourselves? That's what this says. And it's immoral.

"The Commonwealth's...investment in ...education...has produced a local work force...for managerial, supervisory, technical, professional, and other skilled jobs.... foreign national workers must be available to fill the unskilled and lower skilled jobs..."

WRONG. #1. (I'm screaming here.) We are so superior that we continue to think we should "supervise" and "manage" others. We've done such a good job with our government, with CUC, with the state of our roads, our capital assets, our retirement program... This is so wrong.

WRONG. #2. Even if we have some talent (and we do), some educated (and we do), some imaginative thinkers (and we do), as a general policy, we should want only the best for the CNMI. We should always be looking for the skilled, the educated, the professional. WE DO NOT NEED MORE CAR MECHANICS, FARMERS, MAIDS, FACTORY WORKERS, WAITRESSES, STREET-WALKERS, PIMPS AND PROSTITUTES.

These are not the key to a sustainable economy. These are not the people who will make us smart, beautiful, welcomed in the world. We do not need the masses. And we can't sustain them. For Pete's sake, we import food! We import all our fuel! We have limited land. WE DO NOT NEED THE MASSES, THE TEEMING HORDES. We want fewer people, doing more. And that means we need to entirely revamp our thinking about who we allow to enter the CNMI.

If we are truly so smart and educated, we won't be afraid of the competition from other smart, educated people that we let come in. We'll benefit from the exchange of ideas. We can become a mecca of learning, of advanced research and design for oceanography, for the environmental green campaign, for something to help the world. We do not want to become a floating casino, money-laundering off-shore bank, dung-hole of the Pacific.

"The current economic situation...requires the continued availability of foreign nationals...but also demands that the system...be more efficient and less costly to operate."

WRONG & RIGHT. This says we want cheap labor! We don't want to spend the money on an immigration and labor system that would be fair--just cheap. Well, the cheapest way would be to completely turn over immigration control to the U.S. Then the CNMI wouldn't have to pay for it at all. LET'S DO THAT!


"The early-intervention mediation...achieves good results in promoting fair employment relationships..."

A THOUGHT. I don't know about this program. To be truthful, I've never heard of it. I wonder how many alien workers know about it. Perhaps it does work, in which case it should be advertised more widely.

ANOTHER THOUGHT. The biggest labor problem alien workers face is not getting paid for their work. When this happens, they are stuck. If they complain, they can be terminated and sent home without the benefits of the employment contract they made. If they don't complain, they may end up working for long periods of time without ever being compensated. They are helpless. This is why Buddi Dhimal set himself on fire--he worked and didn't get paid, and the CNMI government helpfully decided to send him back to Nepal without his pay. This is why the Chinese and other garment workers marched in protest. This is what makes work in the CNMI into slavery.

We can't make employers pay their workers because the employers leave, or have no money or assets that we can reach here. And we have "helpfully" stopped requiring employers to post bonds, if they ever did.

What we really need is a requirement that for every alien worker hired, the employer posts one year of salary and benefits. Then the CNMI government can issue the paychecks to them. When the next year comes, the employer has to post another year's advance payment to renew the contract. If employers don't like it, perhaps they'll hire locals.


"Economic stability and growth ...require support for the visitor industry and other investments, both local and foreign, that generate new employment opportunities."

WRONG. #1. We don't need to generate new employment opportunities. Who will fill those jobs? More aliens. This system only provides stability for continued dependence on foreign workers.

What we need is to figure out a new economic model, a sustainable economy, that recognizes the limits of our environment and resources, and takes advantage of our natural strengths. We need to generate self-sufficiency, and something to export to help our GNP.

WRONG. #2. Not all economic investment is created equal. I am tired of seeing little tire shops along the road--we have enough already. On the other hand, the plastic recycling venture should be applauded and supported and multiplied everywhere. I am not totally against garment factories. I like clothes. But I want all of our businesses to be fair to their employees, zealously considerate of our environment, and basically moral. Not the robber-baron version of enterprise.

WRONG. #3. We need to support the visitor industry, but I fear that this statement in a bill that addresses alien labor means that we have to make exceptions to our good limits and standards on alien labor, exceptions for hotels and tour companies. And I think that's a bad idea. Look around. We have a local population that can fill many of these jobs. Visitors like to see local people when they visit. If there's one place our local population should be, it's in the visitor industry--spreading that island friendliness, creating our own "hafa adai" spirit to rival the aloha spirit of Hawaii.

I'm ready to tackle page 3, but it's late, I'm tired, and this post is already long. I'll come back to it tomorrow or the day after. But for now--let's just say, I think this bill will not take the CNMI in the right direction.

Just a brief summary, observation, here. This bill is aimed at alien workers. We can't change the vast number of impoverished, desperate people in Asia who are willing to come and work for low wages in the CNMI, willing to pay recruiters, willing to cheat and lie their way into the CNMI, just desperate to be willing enough to do anything. We have to stop focusing on our alien workers and start focusing on what we can change. Ourselves. Our own attitudes. That's where the solution to our economic woes lies. And that's where we need to put our energy.

1 comment:

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and don't forget the impossibility of enforcing the existing immigration laws if we pass this law and yet again tell foreign nationals that it's really okay to come to America illegally.

Thoughtful post. You should hear the Border Patrol agents' take on this. Very expletive laced and pithy. (I live on the US/Canada border.)