Thursday, January 31, 2008

I just don't get it

Let's say you were one of those people who think contract workers are taking our jobs and that the indigenous people are the people of the land and they should be given preference and you'd just rather have things as they were back in the day. Lots of people think that way I'm sure.

What evidence has there ever been that the local government won't continue to flood the labor force and the island with workers from economically deprived countries? Who brought them here in the first place? Who is trying to make damn sure you, the person not in the bureaucracy, won't make more than $3.55, and fought tooth and nail to keep it at $3.05 for years? What is it about a local government that can't maintain a diesel engine power plant that makes you want them in control of anything?

If you are a business owner, all that makes sense. It's probably nice to hire accountants and engineers for $4.00 or less. If you are the average local working person, local control makes so little sense for you as to be absurd -- the bureaucracy has to shrink. The CNMI budget is down more than 25 percent in two years -- $60 million dollars less than the Babauta days and it's going lower. It gets estimated even lower every quarter. People will have to get private sector jobs and the local government simply isn't on your side. It wants you to make $3.55, and it wanted you at $3.05. Repeat, the upgraded immigration status for the foreigners thing is dead. Start using your heads and look at who is really on your side. It sure isn't the local government doing its best to see you don't get a .50 cent raise.

I'm sick of even having to write this, but it gets blasted in the news each day and the stance people take against their own interest is so ridiculous I want to scream.


jay said...

Jeff, maybe you should let them handle their matters and not be so concerned much. Either way none of our voices count on internal issues.

what are they saying now that the federal report from the US Secretary of Labor came out and basically confirmed the position of the business community and the administrations position.

The US representatives for that matter have not been fair at all with regards to introducing legislation that basically ignored the rights of the CNMI indigenous people. No federal law would ever be implemented in the states against the will of the US people.

Brady Barrineau said...

"If you are a business owner, all that makes sense. It's probably nice to hire accountants and engineers for $4.00 or less."

This is the heart of the problem Jeff. What incentive would someone have to get an engineering degree? or aspire to be an accountant? Things have to change here, and it will be painful. Years ago, NMC had a voc ed program, that didn't last long. The people against 'Federalization' and minimum wage increase are actually hurting the American indigenous people as well all the other Americans living here. What drives someone to be an engineer? It is an exciting field with promise of a descent living...not here on Saipan. How about a journeyman carpenter? No mas. Bar owners especailly are very much against ANY increase in wages, their beloved dirt cheap labor will soon vanish...and they might find themselves working again. It's true and sad.

Jeff said...

Congress does things all the time that aren't popular or even in the interests of a majority of people. They passed a bankruptcy bill written by the credit card companies. They passed a prescription drug bill written by the pharmaceutical industry. The Iraq thing is a wet dream for oil and the military industrial complex, and lousy for most everyone else. The South wasn't exactly cheering for the Civil Rights Act of 64 or the Voting Rights Act of 65, but they were both done over the strenuous objections of numerous redneck politicians who sure as hell didn't want it and the bill wouldn't have passed any referendum. That happened to be the right thing to do.

It would make my life simpler not to care. None of this really impacts me personally. Somehow I just can't. I'm part of this place. I live here. 2/3 of this island isn't indigeneous and I have a hard time acting like they don't matter because of where they were born or that their opinions don't matter. Hell, born doesn't even matter, more like where your grandparents were in 1950. My kids were born here and are ostracized from owning land where they were born. It's plain messed up.

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

What does Taotao Tano say about the minimum wage?

KAP said...

Read the report. It is not based on facts.

Where, you might ask? I got a copy on my site--in my sights.

Waste of paper, and electricity.

Brady Barrineau said...

American teachers are here only because federal grant requirements force the CNMI to do it, same with CHC. If they could, you would be replaced by a $3.55 hour contract worker. Canadian pharmacists and doctors work well below what Americans are paid. The attitude here now is, we'll settle for less. Hotel workers in Waikiki make upwards of $25.00 to $30.00 an hour, and Hawaii is booming. Guam is pretty much the same. What is happening is some, not all, business owners will be forced to increase the wages of their workers. There is a sad reality here Jeff, almost all 'bar' estabilshments (not all) have pending labor cases, etc. Some workers are owed thousands and are either never paid, or the case settles for peanuts or is simply covered up. Depends on whose ass you are kissing at any given moment.

Pilgrim said...

Brady- you said it right but you didn't finish the thought.. Let me help you.

"....Bar owners especailly are very much against ANY increase in wages, their beloved dirt cheap labor will soon vanish...and they might find themselves working again...." "and the former employees, who for the most part got $3.55 plus tips, will be unemployed".

Did you know that in Florida (other places also I assume), food and beverage workers who receive tips as the main source of their income may be paid only $2.70 an hour. This was true in 1996 and I assume still now for the most part.

Most food and beverage businesses operate on very slim margins. People like you must think that all they do is empty the cash register every night and go to the bank.

I know of hardly any food and beverage operation where the owner doesn't put in 12+ hour days, takes few vacations or days off, and is the hardest working dude in the joint. And for a few percent of gross at the bottom line if they are lucky.

The food and beverage owners are not the "evil doers" as you suggest. Shame on you for suggesting so.

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

Waiters in Florida made $2.13/hour up until June 2005 when there wage was increased to $3.13. Every year since 2005 they have gotten a raise that corresponds to the increase in the cost of living.

dekada lawyer said...

No federal legislation has been introduced that "ignored the rights of the CNMI indigenous people." That's just inflamatory rhetoric.

The "disrepecting the indigenous" argument is one of the most absurd I have ever heard.

Immigration control is an element of national sovereignty, and 78.8 percent of the indigenous people of the CNMI voted to enter into political union with the U.S. under U.S. sovereignty.

The Covenant also expressly reserved minimum wage authority to the national government.

Indigenous people have been crying for years and years for minimum wage increases.

Human rights, international obligations, and equal protection of the law also implicate national interests and are expressly protected by the Covenant.

Existence of large populations of long-term residents without political rights offends clearly articulated principles of international law.

There are no indigenous rights that trump these national interests and principles of international law.

dekada lawyer said...

kap, you've got a copy of the report? Where'd you get it? The news stories contained no useable reference.

In any case, you are absolutely right.

Everyone, read the news stories carefully and you see that the report came out of the "policy" office of the Secretary of Labor -- George Bush's Secretary of Labor. You'll see that it is not based on any data. It is all supposition and assumption. It expressly admits they have no data "to precisely quantify the impact" but it "seems likely" ...

It is nothing more than the same kind of empty argument used by the Fitial administration to oppose the legislation before it passed.

KAP said...

With some exceptions, many of them involving tucking dollars in g-strings, it would be hard for a bar employee here to live on tips.

That said, I think if you really checked around you'd find bar owners split on the issue of minimum wages. Hotels, garment factories and other large employers are driving the anti-federalization bus.

Then again, I don't know what bars you're talking about.

Brady Barrineau said...


Let me please clarify something. Most of these 'bars' that I refer to are the Karaoke establishments, etc. Just recently, an owner was sent to jail for not paying upwards of thousands to employees. Yes, even some regular 'bar' owners have the same problem. It is easy to compare Saipan to other places to justify corrpution. My favorite was when asked about slave labor conditions in the CNMI, Pete A. Tenorio said something to order of ' had your slaves, so can we.'

Anonymous said...

Bush Department of Labor sides with Chamber on minimum wage under Secretary Chao? Say it ain't so, Jay!

Jay, Jeff's point is that the Federal legislation IS in the interest of indigenous people, and they are too blinded by resentment towards contract workers to see how they are being manipulated by the Fitial few.

PNG'ed twice said...

The heart of the problem is the myth that the anti-federalization mob will help the indigenious people. Between Tan, Pierce, Knight, Siemer, and the rest of the freak show, are no favors to the poor residents of our impoverished homestead areas.

They (the goon squad) now have lobbyists sending faxes to Senators to pull HR-3079 out of the larger bill.

You bloggers will have a field day when the feds start locking them up.

The Last Weatherman ps Elvi? Ali is who screwed on your greatest American list!!

PNGed twice said...

Steve - R U going to the Chamber forum today and watch the freak show?

The Last Weatherman

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

What Chamber forum?

dekada lawyer said...


Yes, I went to the Chamber forum this morning on implementation of PL 15-108 and the new regulations, featuring Deanne Siemer, Barry Hirshbein, Cinta Kaipat, Eleanor Nisperos, and Jeff Camacho. The last two said nothing; Cinta only gave brief closing remarks.

I said nothing and asked no questions, just listened and took notes. The system they are describing and which they say they will implement beginning Monday is vastly different from what appears on the face of the law.

In essence, Deanne has taken a very bad law and created an elaborate overlay (taking considerable legal liberties along the way) to soften it and make it more legally defensible. Deanne is a very smart and articulate lawyer and thus very good at this and at generating positive spin. The roots remain rotten, however, and much of the new window dressing serves to mask the fundamentally anti-worker bias of the regime.

Many of the practical administrative reforms they discussed are very good. Many of the best changes have little to do with PL 15-108. DoL could have revised their practices and regulations at any time without necessity of a new law. What this shows is that some good can come out of almost any mess (or evil).

Deanne said she is a volunteer, unpaid consultant to the DoL (in truth, her role is much greater than that) because of her husband, Howard Willen's, commitment to ensuring the CNMI's "maximum right to self-government" is always protected. I'm puzzled by that statement, but I guess it means she and Howard are here to save the natives from themselves.

From Deanne and Barry's comments, it appears Cinta Kaipat has already been hired by Dol, although in what capacity is not clear.

Armchair Lawyer said...

KAP said...
"Read the report. It is not based on facts."

The 45-page report prepared by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, "Impact of Increased Minimum Wages on the Economies of American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" (U.S. Department of Labor Jan. 25, 2008) speaks for itself.

Others can make all the ad hominem attacks they want, but it was prepared at the direction of Congress, and any flaws should be addressed to content, not ideological wishful thinking.

Armchair Lawyer said...

Or perhaps the "lack of facts" was referring to this portion of the report, at pages 35-36:

"Under a technical assistance program of the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, the CNMI is developing local expertise to generate national income and product account (NIPA) or macroeconomic data in a manner the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce produces for the United States and the 50 states. Among the factors that make this and other data gathering and analysis work challenging is that the CNMI (as a U.S. territory along with American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) is not included in the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) or other surveys that generate current detailed data on the 50 states and most areas of population of 65,000 or more. Nor is the CNMI included in surveys that generate current data on industries, production and household income and expenditures."

Id. It is commendable that Interior is helping us out in this way. But it is deplorable that the U.S. Department of Commerce had not been gathering the data here that it does elsewhere in the country! An absolute breach of responsibility!

If Interior really wanted to help, they should lobby to ensure that the CNMI is treated by other federal agencies the same as the rest of the U.S. But then it wouldn't get the "credit" for "coming to the rescue" with grant funding.

This is yet another example of the federal government overlooking us, failing us, and not enforcing existing federal law -- Interior and the other agencies alike.

With immigration federalization, we can look forward to a lot more of this, of legislation and regulation "without the facts."

Pilgrim said...

Brady- if you have a beef with a particular business owner, fine. But to generalize and speak the way you did about an entire business sector, as I said, shameful.

Pilgrim said...

Saipan Blogger- I think in Florida there were some county statutes that added to the $2.13 State minimum. I was an employer there in 1994-1996 but in Okaloosa County and I seem to remember our minimum wage was higher than in Pensacola. Be that as it may, the point is that the State understood the struggles of that kind of business and it's survival depended on keeping wages, benefits and other compensation within 20% of gross.

I think that tips may be pretty good in most places on Saipan KAP, except where the Japanese patronize perhaps. I know I tip 12-20% everywhere I eat or drink. I remember some of the staff at Mom's Round 2 telling me that they made $100 a night on weekends.

Brady Barrineau said...


The Karaoke 'bars' on Saipan are shameful to say the least. They are almost all prostitution fronts with former garment factory workers. If you say no, then you are living in some sort of fantasy land. Perhaps a couple of them are legit, but I even doubt that, since prostitutes and drugs bring in a lot of money. Same goes with Poker, and pawn shops. The Karaoke bar and pawn shop apologists are usually owners or somehow getting money from them. Do you disagree?

Pilgrim said...

Brady- your premise that "bar owners (redefined as "Karaoke Bar Owners") are against any increase in wages and their "beloved dirt cheap labor will soon vanish" and they will have to go back to work", is flawed. The logic escapes me.

Next you say all of these Karaoke Bars are prostitution fronts that make a lot of money on sex and drugs (I guess the unfortunate Chinese country girl who sews-- and is now making a living on her back for $60 a pop is also a drug dealer).

Seems to me if they are making a lot of money selling sex and drugs, why would they be worried about a measly 50 cents an hour? I think they would pay that gladly to be able to stay in business.

Don't you realize that the Chamber (I call them the Chamber of SOME Commerce) is against the pay increases and I seriously doubt that they represent the 30 hookers at the Dirty Duck Massage and Karaoke.

You are all over the map on this one. You go on to say that it's the same with Poker and Pawn Shops. Same what? Desire for cheap labor or fronts for prostitution and drugs?

Now you can discuss the morality of having massage parlors, Karaoke Bars with VIP Rooms, Gambling in any form (poker, bingo, cock fighting)as a point of debate. What is shameful to one person is recreation to another. Don't forget about the places that serve alcohol, which I believe have been responsible for more marriage problems, abused children, deaths and other social ills than all the Chinese hookers combined in the history of Chinese hookers on Saipan.

But the argument is about the minimum wage. Certainly it needs to be raised, but not at all for the reasons you state.

And yes I disagree that all of the people who are apologists as you call them for the Karaoke Bars are getting money from them. If I owned one, I would certainly keep a low profile and gladly pay the new minimum wage and avoid any undue scrutiny.

I'll ask you. Which is better for the community? Tasteful Gentlemens lounges where patrons can relax and enjoy-- the time honored, traditional Geisha concept. Or streetwalkers, hawking their wares up and down Garapan, which is the real problem in my view. But still, minimum wage is not an issue at all with these ladies of the evening or with their employers.

Rick Jones said...

I still say that all those campaigning for higher wages don't have to worry about paying it. Nor do they have to worry about paying gigantic CUC bills to keep their businesses cool for 12-16 hours a day, or pay for water, gas, etc. at rates far higher than Hawaii or Guam or Bumfuck Egypt.

So why don't those of you who criticize business owners take your own money, open a business, work your tails off trying to make it work, and then tell me that I'm taking advantage of my workers?

Sure, call out the crooked owners that don't pay their people, but many of those have been shut down or are facing jail time. In any case, the rotten apples still represent a small minority of businesses here, but we can always take the tabloid media angle and highlight them to the detriment of everyone else.

Jeff said...

I wouldn't call it "taking advantage." No one intentionally pays more for anything than they have to pay. The system is just set up so workers can't get very far on wages. The CUC mismanagement, the tourism drop, etc makes it hard for business owners as well, you're right Rick. The difference is that people like you have a voice in all this, the workers really don't. The government hires lobbyist to help you, not them, and speaks up for business interests, not labor interests. I do agree that business owners have concerns for sure. I also agree that the cheese sticks at 360 kick ass.

dekada lawyer said...


I supported, and still support, the minimum wage law, and I do have to worry about paying it.

We can all get through the adjustments, and everyone will be better off at the end.

No company is going out of business because of these small incremental wage increases. Some marginal firms are going out of business because of inability to survive in the face of falling demand.

The exorbitant power costs may be killing some companies, but not the minimum wage increase. Even here, though, my observation is that the increased costs are simply passed on to consumers, resulting in the incredible high prices we are currently experiencing.

This high price situation actually means we need higher wages, not lower. Lack of money in the hands of workers translates into lack of demand, and that is bad for business and bad for the economy. (Think Great Depression.)

Henry Ford paid his auto workers unusually high wages so they would be able to afford to buy one of his cars. It was good business.

Higher wages for workers translate into more tax revenues and more disposable income to be spent in the retail and service sectors.

Certainly the adjustment is more difficult and painful in times of economic downturn than in times of growth, but it is still an adjustment.

An exacerbating factor in the CNMI is the dual economy (high wage public sector for citizens and low wage private sector with predominately foreign national workforce). This results in economic distortions that are especially painful during a downturn.

From 1985 through 2000, I gave our legislators sound advice on minimum wage (first as a legislative consultant and then, from 1994-2000, as Senate counsel) but it was largely ignored.

Had the minimum wage been steadily raised to the federal level during the boom years, appropriately tailored to local needs, as I urged, we could have avoided federalization and the current economic downturn would have been less severe.

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

I say that the calamari kicks ass.

Still haven't had dinner, though. One of these days.

Rick has a point though. If you really want to make more than minimum wage, open up a business and pay yourself whatever you want.

My stepfather told me that for years.

Brady Barrineau said... does the Calamari. Well put Jeff. It is interesting to read about the minimum wage for waiters in Florida being three something an hour. They work on tips, and I'll bet they make more money than we do in tips alone.

Jeff said...

If you took a $3.55 per hour job, or are seeking one out, chances are you don't have the capital for a business start up.

cactus said...

Getting back to the original issue of why so many locals oppose federalization when the local government has done so little for them, perhaps it is because they recognize that the local government, whatever its faults, remains far more accessible and within their ability to influence than the federal government ever would be.

As you truly note above, "Congress does things all the time that aren't popular or even in the interests of a majority of people." And if that is true even as to their own constituents in the US, how much more true will it be way out here? In fact, haven't you, by recognizing that fact, really answered your own question?

Jeff said...

I agree that the "easier to influence" thing is probably the reason.

But, on this issue, Congress is acting in their interest and the local government just isn't and never has.

I would extend that statment to the local government as well.

The feds are not taking over everything, ust immigration.

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

...and that's how I responded to my stepfather, but if you don't do something to start to change your situation, you'll never change it.

You might not be able to start by opening a Joeten, but you could, say fix people's computers or cars as a side business then save, save, save until you could get bigger.

KAP said...

The elephant in the room is Section 8 housing vouchers and food stamps. A fifty cent raise doesn't make the minimum an attractive alternative. Sound economic reasoning by poor people, my pal Ed would say.

And, of course, when the minimum does become high enough to wean people from federal handouts, that money will also be lost to the economy.

cactus said...

It seems to me that just about every idea anyone has ever had for the economic future for the CNMI -- whether tourism, manufacturing, casinos, education, retirement homes, fisheries, shipbuilding, offshore banking, call centers, sugar cane (a blast from the past), basically everything except a permanent military presence -- depends to a great extent on the entry and involvement of foreign nationals, whether as tourists, workers, investors, etc.

Loss of immigration control means loss of the power to create any of those possible futures, except to whatever unknown extent federal authorities may permit. Even to just throw everyone out and go back to substistence farming and fishing requires the power to do it.

Considering this makes me wonder whether there is such a great distinction between taking over "just immigration" and taking over "everything."

Jeff said...

Then maybe they should have raised the minimum wage on their own over the last ten years. They can still bring workers, but it will be more expensive and the fly by night businesses won't be able to do it as easily -- especially appropriate since many of the fly by nights took money from these people and the purpose was just to get them here.

Jeff said...

Ken, the sooner kids see their parents going to work, the better modeling they'll have. I think one of the big problems in the schools is that a lot of kids see their parents unemployed and think that's the way. Poor diet, alcoholism and other vices tend to be related to sitting around all day doing nothing. It's a piss poor example.

jay said...

Interesting thoughts from everyone. Kansas state minimum wage is at alittle over $2.10. so much concern about what the minimum wage is so why don't all of us who are making more give some over to some of these unfortunate ones.

we argue over immigration and what or who will take over the jobs over immigrant workers when we have a big problem in the states. Anyone of you will be interested in taking up farming when and if they do address illegal immigration. Maybe one reason why no one in Congress will do anything is that we are just as lazy and picky about the kinds of jobs we want.

To say the feds will take over immigration is partly true because they will take over the Department of Labor as well. There will be 5 federal agencies overseeing the Department of Labor and Immigration when the change over occurs.

Steve probably has no problem paying the minimum wage...Of course he does not. I mean one can conceivably see that if he collected or was "paid" thousands of dollars for the so called Dekada fees he should be loaded with a lot of moola.

To say that the people here are treated the same way as US citizens is a rhetoric. For more than 30 years of no representation is hardly what I call fair. Even to have a delegate for these people it's also understood that the delegate only has "Limited Voting Powers."

Pilgrim said...

My company employs between 38 and 45 people at any one time. I don't have any minimum wage people working for me. My feeling is if you want a bunch of monkeys, pay them peanuts. I hire the best and pay well. I look forward to the minimum wage being raised since it's going to level the playing field and make it difficult for my scumbag competitors who cheat on taxes and pull every other trick in the book.

Much better for me in the long run. However, I can sympathize with the very low profit margin businesses which will be sucked up by larger, more efficient companies which are able to use economies of scale to garner a profit.

And on the subject of how you can't start your own business due to lack of Capital. Boo Hoo. Most folks are not born with money.

Most businessmen that I know started out with nothing and put everything they owned at risk because they believed in what they were doing. I have been so over-extended during my early years that I didn't have the price of a suit to wear to greet a client. Failure at any turn would have forced me to start over.

Start small. Believe in what you are doing. And study. Read everything you can get your hands on about running a business. The small business association has a ton of free literature that is enormous help. Also the library. All free.

And the best advice I can give you potential entrepeneurs is to learn how to be a bean counter first. Know bookkeeping and accounting or you will never really have a handle on your business. Again, teach yourself, for free.

Education is the key to confidence and success.

Brady Barrineau said...

Start small with less than $4 per hour. Start small indeed. Engineer $3.55 / hr...Computer Programmer $4.55 / hr...When will it stop, no body knows. Companies with small profit margins who pay their workers less than $4 per hour and are 'suffering' probably thank God for having the opportunity to open a business in the CNMI with dirt cheap labor and little or no capital. The cost of living on Saipan has reached close to Hawaii, yet raising the minimum wage is so controversial. WTF and LOL!

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

I'm not convinced that the cost of living is more expensive here. Yeah, gas, electricity, and cheese are expensive, but you make HUGE savings on rent, insurance, and medical bills.

I was paying 1/3 of my salary in rent in Florida. I pay nowhere near that now.

I was also paying $1000+ per year in car insurance in Florida. My insurance here is about $171/year.

Health insurance is cheaper here, too. So are the hospital fees. I went to the emergency room in 2006 and I was charged about $80. That would have cost me $500+ in the States.

Plus, you can buy a bag full of vegetables on the street for $3 and fish is $2/pound.

If you want to live cheaply, you can live very cheaply. That is how people earning $3/hour make it here.

Plus, anyone can go to the ocean and catch food for free. Several types of fishing don't even require a license or a permit.

Jeff said...

Car insurance for sure. Rent, most likely unless you compare it to the sticks in the U.S. But, you also lose in several ways on this here. First, home equity loans are nowhere near as available, if at all. Second, the demand pool is destroyed by Article XII depressing value. Third, rent is money down the drain as opposed to buying for a large segment such as the one I'm in.

Medical bills, no. The premiums are higher here, and you end up spending on anything even mildly complex becuase you have to travel to the specialist we don't have here.

Every commodity from off island, most of what we buy, is much higher.

We do save on taxes, though.

Pilgrim said...

Brady, yes. Work two jobs. Three jobs. Start small and save money. Where there is a will, there is a way. The American dream is achievable, no matter what the nay-sayers believe. Some people have politics that are designed to keep you down and without hope. Sad but true.

With inspiration and motivation, you can achieve, even if you make $3.55 an hour. I know people who came to America with nothing but some clothes. Lived with a relative. Whole family collecting aluminum cans 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. This family is very wealthy now. They own many properties and many businesses. They started smaller than small. They couldn't read and write English and could not even get a job paying $1 an hour so they picked up cans to get their start.

So the whiners wll always be whiners. The achievers will find a way. And the whiners will call the achievers exploiters because they believe that the only way to get ahead is to exploit something or someone.