Tuesday, November 13, 2007

160. P.L. 15-108. Our New "Labor" Law: What It Says; What It Means; and What I Think About It. PART 1.

P.L. 15-108 is 71 pages long. So I'm going to comment on bits and pieces of it, as I plow through it. These are my initial thoughts. I may revise them as I get to other sections of the law. I may re-think my positions and analysis as information or other comments come to light.

And because the bill is 71 pages long, I won't comment on everything. I haven't formed any strong feelings based on the coverage yet. I've been somewhat amused by all of the back-and-forth debate, wondering how much of it is just over-reaction and how much is warranted.

So here goes--my first foray into P.L. 15-108:

I got to the bottom of page 1 without screaming. Already I didn't like what I was reading. The law begins as most laws do with a statement of "findings" and "purposes." These are often instructive in how the language of the law should be interpreted, so I like to read these.

But this one starts with a purpose of achieving more employment for resident workers. That would be good. But I didn't like the "finding" written into the law that Chamorros and Carolinians should get even more preference than U.S. citizens and U.S. Permanent Residents for training and hiring. I think the notion that such preference is desireable goes against the fundamental freedoms of our U.S. and CNMI Constitutions that provide for equal protection.

And I didn't like the inference that locals should be groomed for management only jobs. I'm not fond of the prejudice against blue-collar work. It crops up again and again here. I don't think it makes economic sense. It runs directly counter to what economists (quoted in our local papers from sources like Wall Street Journal and other reputable business-oriented publications) are saying is the bedrock of an economy that can grow and thrive. And I find the prejudice against blue-collar work morally offensive.

So by the bottom of page 1, I'm not liking this bill much.

At page two, I found this:
The Covenant envisioned the employment of foreign nationals in the Commonwealth in order to create an economic base that would provide the citizens of the Commonwealth the economic opportunities and standard of living that their counterparts on the mainland are able to enjoy because of the vast area and large population from which communities on the mainland may draw employees.

What does this mean? It sounds to me like we get rich off the backs of cheap foreign labor. And we don't dirty our hands with the work ourselves. And that's our glorious vision for the CNMI.

And this purpose is "esteemed" because it's written into our Covenant. It's a bedrock principal!

I've read the Covenant. I've read the committee reports that constitute the legislative history of the Covenant. No where is there any such purpose stated.

The Covenant provided for local control over immigration in order to avoid problems with too many foreign nationals coming into a small community. The worry was not that we needed labor to sustain our industry; we could get that with U.S. controlled immigration. The worry was that the U.S. controlled immigration would not be responsive to our small, local issues and would allow foreign labor to overrun the island and change its character.

How do I know this? I wasn't here then, but as I've said, I read the reports. None of the reports--the House Committee Report (#94-364), the Senate Committee Reports (#94-433, 94-596), the Marianas Political Status Commission Memorandum, the Administration Memorandum, all assembed in a handy Section By Section Analysis prepared by Herman Marcuse of the Department of Justice--mention anything about providing cheap foreign labor so the locals could use them to raise their standard of living. The only comment about the reason for local control over immigration is this, from the Senate Committee Report, echoed in the Administration's Memorandum:

The Immigration and Naturalization Laws (subsection (a) [of Covenant sec. 503]. The reason this provision is included is to cope with the problems which unrestricted immigration may impose upon small island communities. Congress is aware of those problems. See, e.g., Alien Labor Program in Guam, Hearing before the Special Study Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 19-25.

The vision of the CNMI's founding fathers was local control of immigration to limit the numbers of foreign workers. How badly did we screw up? Our government let in unlimited numbers of foreign workers, and we are overrun. And now our local population is a minority in its own place. That was exactly what the Covenant was supposed to protect against, but didnt work out.

So the "vision" now espoused in this latest law, because we can't admit that we made mistakes and didn't live up to the real vision, is one that our Legislators have concocted, not one that was built into our Covenant.

And it's an awful vision.

With this vision, I see the people of the CNMI standing on the backs and necks of the poor foreign workers. While the people of the CNMI enjoy middle class life, the foreign labor eats the dust on the floor.

That's what these words say to me. That's what is hidden in the text of the purposes. That we must have a social stratification, where locals are the owners and managers and foreigners are the peons.

And it's wrapped up in red, white, and blue--saying that this is what they have in the U.S. and we want it too!

And that's another distortion. In the mainland U.S., all people can enjoy the benefits of the large populaton and industry that can be built with it, but all people are entitled to be treated equally, too. The workers in those factories are U.S. citizens who organize into unions and bargain for better wages and benefits. The owners can't deport them when they complain.

The stated purpose of P.L. 15-108 is designed to keep foreign workers in subjugation to us.

Is there some other reading of this purpose? Is it just a neutral saying that we need foreign workers because we don't have enough local labor force to maintain industries?

I don't think so, because then it would say that we are employing foreign workers to help us create an economic base, where all people in the CNMI could enjoy a better standard of living.

The specific design of this purpose puts the workers on the economic base side and the locals on the enjoying a better life. There's no shared work and no shared benefit. That's by design.

As a purpose for a law that governs how we live, we should be striving for a higher, more ethical way of life. This island is filled with "Christians." Christ argued for a living wage, not exaltation of locals over foreigners. Not special preferences at the expense of others. Christ was a blue collar worker--a carpenter.

We have a long way to go, and a lot of wrong thinking to overcome. Our legislators and Governor should hang their heads in shame for allowing this purpose to be included in P.L. 15-108.

As a small side note: I'm sure someone will say why didn't I address these comments when the bill was being considered. The simple answer is, I can't unless I receive a specific written invitation directed to me (and not the general public or general bar association, etc.). I work for an organization that has regulations prohibiting comment to influence legislation, unless specifically solicited. (And even when I receive a request, I'm sometimes too busy to put my professional time into it. This blog, I do on my own time.) Once a law is passed, it becomes fair game and I'm free to comment.

As another small note: It shouldn't take a comment from me for our Legislators to see how offensive these findings and purposes are. Or to read the Covenant and the historical documents and see what was really said, what the true purpose was.

1 comment:

lil_hammerhead said...

Great initial breakdown. This should be published (outside of the blogosphere).