Facing an audience of military brass, military engineers and contractors from all over world eager to get a piece of billions of dollars in construction money that will be spent to prepare for the transfer of thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Governor Eddie Baza Calvo repeated a warning he's been sounding for months.
Calvo was referring to the virtual freeze imposed by Washington on bringing in skilled H2 foreign contract workers to do the vast amount of work to build facilities to support the military and and to expand civilian infrastructure required for the overall increase in population on the island.
Calvo told the crowd that authorizing such workers on Guam was once routine, dating back to the reconstruction of the island after the devastation of World War II. Construction workers from the Philippines once made up 90 percent of Guam's construction labor, but he said that now, three-quarters of Guam's available construction labor work force consists of American citizens.
"Now, our local, U.S. citizen construction workforce, percentage-wise, makes up a bigger percentage of our economy and our workforce than that of Hawaii. So if anyone asks you about Hawaii, we have more American citizens in the construction industry than Hawaii in per capita population."
But this workforce is hardly sufficient to perform an estimated $5.5 billion in construction work during the next five years.
"So it's difficult, Governor Calvo said, "and at this point I can't support the buildup until the immediate immigration mandates applied to Guam are seriously adjusted to reflect equity and calculation and access to foreign workers to build Guam's infrastructure."
The situation regarding strictly military construction was somewhat eased by a provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act allowing construction companies to apply for some 4,000 H2 workers, but as Governor Calvo and others have repeatedly pointed out, this leaves 'outside the fence' civilian projects such as the expansion of Guam Memorial Hospital high and dry.
Calvo took up the issue face-to-face with President Trump last year and secured a commitment from Chief of Staff General Kelly to fix the problem, but so far, there's been nothing heard from Washington labor officials.
"I consider myself a patriotic American, said Governor Calvo, but I'm also Chamorro and Guamanian. I can't sit idly by and watch the intrusion of a federal mandate for our island."
The venue was the two day conference of The Guam Industry Forum 20018, sponsored by the Guam Chapter of the Society of American Military Engineers.