Guam Goveror Eddie Baza Calvo, just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., said it’s just starting to dawn on lawmakers and high ranking officials of the Trump administration that blanket denials of skilled foreign workers to carry out military construction projects on Guam is already a huge threat to national security.
Echoing the president’s take on North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Governor Calvo said, “It took a crazy guy with a funky haircut to get people in Washington, D.C. to start listening to issues that are affecting the people of Guam.”
Speaking to the Guam Contractor’s Association, Calvo said the 100 percent denial to allow foreign laborers to carry out projects is an “H2B worker crisis created by the federal government,” that also threatens to destroy a promising boom for military and civilian construction on the island lasting up to 2030 or longer. This policy change began in December, 2015 and is a rejection of longtime policy that has closely followed certifications by island governors.
“If they don’t change [H2B rules] as of yesterday, this buildup is not going to happen with the workers we have now, period. There is no way you can do $8.7 billion in construction. Just in the short time I’ve been gone, and I think it was North Korea that shook everything up, we’re getting an award a week, sometimes more.”
On the civilian side of the labor shortage problem, Governor Calvo said he had learned on his return that the Guam Memorial Hospital’s Labor and Delivery refurbishment project, pegged at $9.2 million got no bids and will have to be put out again.
On the plus side, Calvo said the North Korean situation gave him access to far more decision makers than in the past, including Senators Lisa Murkowski and Ted Cruz, who have important roles in decisions about security in the Pacific.
He said information he provided to the National Security Agency was “an eye opener” to officials there.
“I’m hoping the bean counters in Washington say, ‘this is impossible.’ For them it’s a cold calculation. If they hinder us any longer, then, who’s going to look in the mirror if something bad happens if the military construction projects weren’t completed?’”
Calvo attributed much of Washington’s reluctance to allow non-U.S. workers in the islands to the ongoing fiery controversies about immigration. He said that the vast reconstruction effort that will be required by hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean will make it unlikely sufficient U.S. construction workers will be available to carry out projects in the Pacific, military or civilian.
Calvo said that some have urged that Guam look to Hawaii for guidance on how to handle the issue, but he noted that while local construction workers make up 9 percent of Guam’s workforce, they are only 4.5 percent of Hawaii’s.
Two versions of the National Defense Authorization Act currently moving through the U.S. Congress allow a capped number of workers for military projects, but not for other programs that would be essential to the civilian construction economy, the governor said.
”It would be crazy if they did not solve this by the end of the year.” I think we’ve shaken enough people up [in Washington], but we’ve got to continue on.”
Governor Calvo urged contractors connected with politically powerful corporations in the U.S. mainland to pressure Washington for change in this policy.
John Robertson of the Guam Contractor's Association and Governor Calvo