Wednesday, December 12, 2007

171. The Myth of the Lazy Local

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."


Jeff said...

Well said as usual and right on. Tons of locals are entering the military, which is hardly the path of the lazy.

Saipan Writer said...

Good point, Jeff, and one I should have added.

kilili said...

Thank you Saipan Writer. Very well said.

kilili said...

I am a local and I have been a grocery stocker and bagger boy for the former Town House, night janitor for Bank of America, customer service/ticketing agent for Continental Micronesia, govt employee in different capacities, bartender for Hamilton's, student, construction helper (worked for contractors such as Greg Cruz's dad and Tun Josen Mariko), paged for the Congress of Micronesia, special assistant to a US Senator, legislator for 2 terms, election official (my present job), special assistant to 3 governors, an Army reservists, and I enjoyed all the experiences. Of course, some of the jobs paid better than others but they were all worth it.

Pay decent wages and you will get good employees, I say.

Saipan Writer said...

Thanks Kilili for making my point with your specific experience!

writtenwyrdd said...

Well said. Ethnicity does not mean lazy. That stereotype doesn't speak to work ethic, reality or political correctness, does it?

I will say this though: In my experience, heat and humidity of island living makes anyone a bit more slow moving! At least, I'm a sloth, given the opportunity.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Great post, Jane.

To copy Greg, I've dressed up as a giant dog in a parade, solid $17 hamburgers to British tourists, delivered newspapers on a bicycle, taught English, sold insurance, managed a restaurant, worked in crowd control, written for a newspaper, planted trees and sold candy at different times in my life to make a living.

Saipan Writer said...

Angelo, Sounds like a fun resume!

lil_hammerhead said...

I agree with you totally. It disturbs me everytime I read nonsense about "local workers". The argument, when used by folks here, is used to justify "cheaper labor" and "unreasonable control".

I do believe, however, that such arguments will continue to be made until such time that non-resident workers are in a position to be able to fight for their basic rights as employees (i.e.-better pay, leave, time off for necessary family matters, etc.).

Thank you Saipan Writer!

Anonymous said...

The letter that you refer to in your first sentence, supposedly hinting that locals are lazy, was not from David Cohen but from DONALD Cohen. The points you make in this post are well taken, but you should make that correction for the record.

Saipan Writer said...

Aargh! Thanks for pointing out that mistake. It's too late to correct in the version I sent to the papers, tho!. Sheesh.