Donald (sorry for earlier mistake) Cohen hints at it in his letter today. Anthony Pellegrino included it in the assumptions made in his column earlier this week. We hear it all of the time--islanders, that is, the Chamorros and Carolinians of the NMI, don't want to do the work that has been handled by the foreign workers, because they're lazy!
I beg to differ.
This is a stereotype like the "shiftless Negro" of last century, or the siesta-taking Mexican--both prominently featured at times in America. It's a false icon that has worked its way into the dialogue and needs to be challenged.
I've been here 23 years. I know people in most segments of the community. I work with Chamorros and Carolinians in my office on a daily basis. They're not the exception. They represent the excellent quality of workers that exist in the local community. And although I work in an office, it's not all paper work. There are times when we all pitch in to haul water, clean the office, repair our dilapidated surroundings. In the past we've moved locations. And everyone, especially our local staff, has worked hard at these jobs, too.
We've all seen islanders sweat and endure hours and hours of hard work on their local farms, or preparing for fiestas and other events. This is real work. We know Chamorros and Carolinians who have moved in droves to the mainland U.S.A. for better jobs.
There is no lazy gene in the local talent pool. When the motivations are there, islanders work as hard as anyone else.
The problem is the issue of motivation. What U.S. citizen wants to work for a mere $3.55 / hour? (And that represents a raise from the $3.05 that prevailed as minimum wage until July 2007!) If islanders value their work at a higher rate than $3.55 / hour it doesn't make them lazy; it just means that they are fortunately not as desperate as the impoverished foreign contract workers who will accept any low pay. If the local islanders are moving to the mainland for jobs (which they are), they're not expecting to laze about. They're working hard, but getting higher pay that their work deserves.
I've heard complaints from Saipan employers about their local staff taking off for funerals and family needs. I've known locals who gave up their jobs for these types of reasons. All to whom I've spoken at these times seem ignorant about the federal law, the Family Leave Act. We could do with some better education on this law and the protections it affords. We could use a local law that extends this act to all employers, including the small ones. Then there would be fewer problems with these personal issues.
Just because foreign workers have fewer rights, less status and are more vulnerable, they complain less. That doesn't mean the local worker is a bad employee.
Of course there are some who will not work no matter how high the pay or good the opportunities. These people exist in all cultures. But they are a small minority.
So let's stop assuming that Chamorro and Carolinians do not want to do the hard work, the construction jobs, the farm work, the cleaning and service jobs. And let's stop pretending that it's all about "training." There is some training needed, especially for construction, but that can be met with voc-ed classes and on-the-job training the same as in the mainland.
We don't need special rules to get locals into the workforce. We don't need special opportunities and more expensive "training."
What is lacking is "motivation." And motivation could be instantly supplied with a higher minimum wage, one comparable to that in the mainland U.S.A., exactly what has lured hundreds and possibly thousands of locals to the mainland in the past few years.
What we have instead of sufficient motivation is this foolish, slow adjustment of minimum wage that is designed for failure. It's designed to cost employers just enough to cause problems and not provide enough boost to workers to make a difference--so that it can be shut down and stopped, and the further increases can be scuttled. And it is designed so that suppressed wages at the horribly low amounts can be continued.
With higher wages in the private sector, the local population will step up and WORK! Employers will be less tempted by cheap foreign labor, which won't be as cheap any more. Those foreign workers who remain in the CNMI will be treated better, too, at least economically, with higher wages. And everybody will win. Those earnings, in whole or in part, can be spent here, or saved here, and help restore our economy.
So please, everyone--including our elected leaders here, and our community and federal leaders-- stop assuming that locals do not want to work in real jobs. Stop assuming we need labor laws that grant special privileges to our local population. Our elected leaders especially need to stop pushing for desk jobs and management positions for locals. Let's honor all work--not just with "labor day" and recognition that the leader of our Christian community was himself a carpenter. Let's honor it with a living wage and the courage to treat people who have blue collar jobs as important, contributing members of our community.
We have a diverse community, and a range of talents, skills and interests even among our local populations. Let's embrace this diversity. Let's provide the motivation for work by everyone, in whatever jobs are needed to be done. That motivation would be higher wages, decent wages, a "living wage."
And then let's see who is "lazy."