Things that make you go hmmm...
Updated: Oct 7
Saipan — Like Babe Ruth calling his shot in game 3 of the 1932 World Series, the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2018 extending the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ CW or contract worker program for 10 years, after which the CNMI must have a labor force that is “primarily U.S. workers.”
The U.S. government, like many of its counterparts around the world, is not always right, and is often wrong. To cite a few recent examples, see how it dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation, Afghanistan, and the illegal migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
And yet it seems that the feds believe they know what’s best for a remote, faraway territory whose history — let alone existence — is unfamiliar to many of them. The feds can’t follow their own government appropriation process, and they can’t fix their “broken beyond repair” immigration system, but they know exactly how many foreign workers the CNMI needs and will need during a 10-year period.
Despite having a population of over 300 million, and the world’s largest economy that can afford to pay high wage rates and fund a variety of training programs, the U.S. continues to struggle with labor shortages. U.S. employers complain about the lack of construction workers, hotel/restaurant staff, farmers, healthcare staff and caregivers, among other job positions.
But again, for the feds, the CNMI, with an indigenous population of only about 20,000, should be strictly required to hire mostly U.S. workers for construction, hotel/restaurant, farm, healthcare/caregiving jobs.
“If I hear another person say that we should raise wages and create training programs I will howl like a banshee,” said a long-time CNMI resident who didn’t want to be identified.
“Explain,” I said.
“The federal minimum wage is in effect here, and employers who want to hire CWs must pay the prevailing wages, which are usually higher than the minimum wage, and some rates even mirror Guam’s,” he said.
“Go on,” I said.
“Who among us actually believes that higher wages would persuade our kids not to go to college and instead become construction workers or hotel housekeepers or waiters or caregivers? Did that happen in the states where skilled construction workers get $80,000 a year? The U.S. construction industry continues to complain about a lack of workers. Kids will continue to choose a career path that reflects their ‘passion.’ And that’s not usually construction work or waiting tables.
"Nothing wrong with those jobs, but they’re just not ‘attractive’ for some folks. And some, sadly, are content to live on welfare, like that California surfer who avoids work at all costs and buys sushi and lobster with food stamps. ‘It’s free food,’ he says; ‘it’s awesome.’
“But what I really want to say, is that if you’re a ‘concerned citizen’ who insists that employers must hire U.S. workers only, then put your money where your mouth is and apply for a construction worker’s job — or undergo training for it. Training’s basically free. And tell your kids and other relatives to be construction workers or farmers or waiters or housekeepers.
“And that’s another thing that sets me off. Everyone talks about training programs as if they don’t exist! They do! Since the 1960s! Or perhaps even earlier!
“Again, it’s not just the CNMI that is saddled with labor shortages. Bigger, richer countries like the U.S., Japan, Germany and other developed nations are struggling to find enough workers for certain jobs. These countries have larger populations and high wage rates and plenty of training programs. But it is the CNMI — a tiny, remote territory with a small population that is shrinking, and a one-industry economy — that should hire U.S. workers only!”
“Dude,” I said, “try to breathe.”
“I’m just getting started,” he replied.
He cut in. “Don’t get me started with the feds. For starters, they should stop lecturing us about financial management. They can’t even pass a budget on time. They overspend. They’re deep into debt. Their immigration law, as they themselves repeatedly say, is dysfunctional. And look at their politics and their politicians. The corruption, the crimes, the lawlessness — the horror shows in San Francisco, Chicago or New York City. Look at their two leading candidates for president! My God, it’s like we’re being asked to choose which cancer do we prefer to have: brain or testicular.
“So now, here in the CNMI, our worker shortage is getting worse, not because there are no workers available, but because the CWs who are already here are required by the feds to ‘exit for 30 days,’ which, in reality, can take up to seven months. Implementing this rule is like insisting that a circle should fit in a triangle.
“Now a cynic might say that the feds are intentionally wrecking what’s left of the local economy to make the island leadership and the locals more amenable to a greater U.S. military presence in the CNMI.”
“You think so?” I asked.
“You tell me.”
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the CNMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, “If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan,” is available on amazon.com/.