Friday, June 22, 2007

More on the Labor Reform bill, & why hasn't the mandatory drivers training law been implemented yet?

Food For Thought 6-22-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

I did take a little bit of heat over my comments last week about the local Labor Reform bill. And I understand that the lawmakers have finally taken domestic workers off of the exemption list of contract workers who have to leave the CNMI for 6 months every 3-½ years. I guess they might have thought that looked a little too self-serving. I am still not thrilled with the bill though. To me one of the biggest sticking points is that they have done away with voluntary transfers for the contract workers, and they don’t give them the chance to look for another job or to transfer to another employer at the end of their contract or if they are let go for any reason. The lawmakers will try to tell you that this is to give locals a better chance of getting these jobs. I don’t know whom they are trying to fool though, the problem is not that there aren’t enough jobs for the locals; the problem is that there aren’t enough locals willing to do the jobs that are available.

This particular provision will make it very difficult for some businesses to remain properly staffed. If you can’t find enough workers for your business, you have a problem. I haven’t noticed that locals are fighting for the right to be waitresses, clean hotel rooms, or any number of other jobs that they might not view as suitable or acceptable. By stopping all consensual transfers it means that businesses will now have a tougher time finding workers for some of their positions. And as long as the moratorium is still in place, it means that businesses will have to get exemptions for doing any hiring off island.

But one of the biggest problems with this provision is that it will add more fuel to the federal governments argument that we are discriminatory and should not be in charge of our own immigration. Our government leaders seem to have forgotten that it was the federal government that put pressure on us to let contract workers get secondary employment and to transfer to another employer if it was consensual. Taking away all transfers once again will make it look like we are taking a couple steps backward to the federal government. And if they don’t agree with what we are doing in our local legislation, then how can we possibly expect them to stand up for us when it comes to this new immigration takeover bill that has now been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

Of course all of this comes on the heels of the new minimum wage bill, which applies to the CNMI as well. I had Terence Trotter, the Assistant District Director for the United States Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division in the studio the other day, along with Dorothy Hill, legal counsel for the CNMI Department of Labor. They were talking about the applicability of the new minimum wage in the CNMI, and whom it will affect. One of aspects I was most interested in, because I believe there are a lot of people looking for answers on it, was how this would apply to domestic workers, which includes maids, housekeepers, household farmers or gardeners, and household maintenance workers. Dorothy said that the Department of Labor will be allowing some people out of their contracts for these workers based on economic hardship, but it will be examined on a case-by-case basis. According to the CNMI Department of Labor, if these domestic workers were let go, they would then be entitled to 45 days to look for another job before having to return to their country of origin. She pointed out that the previous employer is still responsible for their medical care and costs during that 45 days, and they are still responsible for their repatriation costs if they are not successful in finding another job.

Well that got me to wondering, so who is responsible for their housing and food for that 45 days that they are looking for another employer? You need to remember that most domestic workers here are live-in workers, meaning that they live in their employers’ house. I asked Dorothy if the current employer was required to keep providing them housing and food during that 45 days while they are not really working for them any longer and looking for another job. She said that no, they are not required to, but that the Department of Labor was hoping that the previous employer would “do the right thing”. That means they are hoping that the employer won’t kick them out on the street for that 45 days while they are looking for another job, but they are not mandating them to continue housing and feeding them.

Am I the only one that thinks this is going to turn into a huge fiasco? I don’t think it is reasonable to expect the previous employer to really want to continue housing and feeding these workers for 45 days when they are getting nothing out of it. Even though a lot of the local families may think of their housekeepers as family because they have been with them so long, I have reason to doubt that the feelings are always mutual, especially if you’ve been working them for 72 hours a week for only $300 a month. Then when the contract comes to an end, or is terminated because of economic hardship, I can see where there could be some real hard feelings on the domestic workers part, and I just think you’re asking for trouble by expecting the employer to continue housing and feeding them for the next 45 days.

But then again, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe the employers will be happy to continue housing and feeding these ex-employees for 45 days, and maybe the ex-employees will be nothing but grateful that they were given the chance to work 72 hours a week for $300 a month. And maybe everyone will live happily ever after and this new local Labor Reform Bill will be signed into law, and businesses will all the sudden love it, and the federal government won’t care that we’ve taken away the ability of contract workers to transfer jobs, and we’ll all have all the money we need to keep up with the new minimum wage increases, and businesses will want to flock here because it is such a business friendly place. Yeah, that’s all within the realm of possibility. Well, in some universe it might be.

Then it was recently brought to my attention that even though the legislature passed the mandatory drivers training bill last year, and even though the Governor signed it into law, it is still not being implemented. The Department of Public Safety had 9 months to promulgate rules and regulations governing the driver’s training schools, but that deadline was up last month, and there are still no rules and regulations. There is one brave soul who decided to step out on a limb and go ahead and open a drivers training school, believing that the government would follow their own laws and mandate that all new drivers and everyone coming from another country would have to take a drivers training course. But because D.P.S. has not come up with the rules and regulations, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles is still not requiring new drivers to take a drivers training course before getting their drivers license. Why is this? What is the use of passing a law if we have no intention of following through on it? And what kind of a message is this sending to other prospective investors? Go ahead and start a business based on our laws, but good luck if you actually expect us to implement them and enforce them. And we wonder why our economy is in the shape it’s in. The legislators should be asking why this law they passed is being ignored, and the Governor should be asking why one of his cabinet members hasn’t taken the needed measures to make sure that this law is implemented and enforced. After all, isn’t a driver’s training school in the interest of public safety after all? Yes, I’m a little confused here and can’t quite figure out why this situation is being allowed to continue as it is.

On a different note, the We Love Saipan network is continuing to climb in the Google search rankings. It is solidly #8 now if you type in a search of Saipan, and it even sneaks up to #7 occasionally, which puts it right below Saipan Sucks. I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time now before the We Love Saipan website bumps the Saipan Sucks website down in the Google search rankings. One thing that would probably help is if we got a few more Saipan people blogging and linking their blogs to the website. If you’d like to find out more about blogging, the We Love Saipan website, or just hang out with an interesting bunch of people, they will be meeting next Wednesday, June 27th at 7 pm at Java Joes in Dan Dan. If this is a way that you can positively help Saipan at no cost to you whatsoever, what do you have to lose by looking into it? You never know, you just might wind up loving it and getting hooked on it too!

And if this isn’t enough for you, and you actually want to hear some of my thoughts on a variety of other issues as well, feel free to check out my online blog anytime at If you get bored reading, there are at least some cool pictures to look at.

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

No comments:

My commentary that airs on radio stations KZMI - 103.9 FM & KCNM - 101.1 FM