Thursday, March 6, 2008

Immigrate expectations

I love debate. Back-and-forth, refuting, attacking and defending, marshaling facts to back the opposing sides. It's even better when I haven't made up my mind.

That's where I am on the 'federalization' of immigration. Saipan's a mess, with too many contract workers grabbing for the brass ring. Rota and Tinian too, but not nearly as bad. Local jobseekers are feeling hostile and left out. I'll give you that. However, is U.S. control the best way off of the merry-go-round?

Have its proponents done their homework? Really, the bureaucracy, the backlogs, the leakage and the outright failures should give you pause. Somebody please convince me that the U.S. system, as it stands, doesn't need to be changed. I really want to hear that story.

Meanwhile, the higher minimum wage is percolating through the economy. In the long run, that's what's going to encourage local employment. It already has. The new labor law, whatever you think of it, is also having that effect.

I've read and heard complaints about how Saipan is pictured in Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy by John Bowe. The book doesn't paint a pretty picture, but it's basically fair. The critics overlook the first three-quarters of the book, written about abuses in the U.S. It's cynical and hypocritical to sip your Florida orange juice and criticize the local system.

The Department of Labor was a cesspool when I used to write about it. Immigration wasn't much better. I'm not there every week any more, but I don't see that today. I do see abuses being reported by the local government, by various federal agencies and by NGO's. I see that in mainland papers, I see it regularly on Guam in the Pacific Daily News and the Marianas Variety.

Okay, tell me a fair system can never be administered locally. We'll have a debate.

Some employers are evil. Everywhere. The only answer is to whack them with a big stick. In our part of the world we have another problem. Some of our investors just don't know about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Ignorance is no excuse, of course, but they need to be educated when they move in. To me, that's at least as important as the briefing new contract workers are getting now.

Saipan Chamber of Commerce President Jim Arenovski and his
'4 reasons why S.2483 won't work for us' (Saipan Tribune) got me started on this again*. His and/or Lynn Knight's arguments about the lousy “H” worker system had me nodding in agreement.

All right, so I was looking around for someone to hoot and holler with when I read that the bill would “artificially cause the CNMI's population to decline over the next four and a half years”. Nope, there's nothing artificial about local unemployment while half of the workforce is contract labor. But that's what happens when you try to add one more argument to bolster your cause.

I love Russian tourists. They've got money and they're repeat customers if you treat them right. They usually stay for weeks, not for days. I like the Chinese. That's where the proposed legislation worries me most. Tourism in the U.S. has taken a big hit since 9-11. Surf the internet and you'll see how much. We need new markets, not new roadblocks.

Education looks promising, but tourism is basically it. Schools would have the same visa problems in the federal system.

Factories are just a fantasy on an island with limited population. What's your competitive advantage? Resources? Sea, sand and coconuts, good for a tourism factory (aka hotel) and a small, sustainable fishery. Location? Ha. Low wages, or a temporary loophole? We've been there, and done that.

Here's a challenge for you: try to find out about the Commonwealth on the U.S. Department of Labor website. The
Minimum Wage Laws in the States for instance. Other than the minimum wage poster and a few reports, I found nothing. Now tell me the U.S. immigration law will be fine-tuned if it causes problems here.

Coming soon, the debate I've never heard: how much development, and for who?

*Well, there were four in the second paragraph. The body of the article has “First off” and “Secondly” but gets kind of muddled in the end. It probably needs some editing.


lil_hammerhead said...

I do agree with you Ken.. the only thing that will encourage local employment in the private sector are reasonable wages. Short of this, we will simply continue depending on cheap labor provided by a foreign workforce.

lil_hammerhead said...

Why am I always the first to comment?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

And I agree with you, Ken that folks possibly err by jumping on the US system bandwagon as if it were some magic panacea when in fact it is steeped in waste, corruption, red tape and ineptitude to the point that it makes the CNMI,s look professional by comparison

Let the market set the wage scale. There is no doubt that there is an excess supply of labor on this island. Reduce the supply and the demand for the remainder will adjust the wage scale upward over time. Try to force it via legislation and the losers will be those short on skill sets and experience…the very ones a minimum wage hike is supposed to help. Artificial minimum wage manipulation is a politician’s con game.


You are the first to comment because you probably have a lot of time on your hands.

lil_hammerhead said...

Oh there goes that false "let the market set the wage scale" argument again. What market? The artificial market that's been set up to facilitate cheap labor in the first place?

It is an artificial market. If wages were high enough to attract local workers, you wouldn't a have $3.05 minimum wage for 10 years.

I mean do you really believe that?

I'm sure the minimum wage was set to attract hordes of local workers into the garment sector, to draw down government employees longing to work in factories.

You know what most local workers would do for three bucks an hour? Nothing. And everyone knows that. Real markets do not begin with a wage level that the majority of local citizenry will not work at.

So now let's talk real markets.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

There is nothing false about the argument. The market will in fact set its own level. It has certainly set this one. With thousands more workers than jobs in a tiny market like this what do you think the result will be? Low wages. Try removing so many that it hurts. All of a sudden you will find the competition for available labor will push the hourly rate up far beyond what the phony “vote for me and I’ll increase your pay” sleezoids promise.

You have to get rid of not only the excess that shows, but also the hidden, underground excess that has caused the continuation of the low wage scale to begin with. Once the numbers balance, wages will equalize at much higher rates than now, and it will be sustainable.

Only a government…and its gun to the head can cause a wage to hold artificially low or high. It’s the same old sleight of hand, whether promised by the grinning naïve newbie or the creaking old veteran politician. Snake oil. Bought by the naïve, most of whom have never done anything except draw a payroll check themselves.

So lets do talk real markets.

lil_hammerhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lil_hammerhead said...

The "plan" is for nothing to equalize, and nothing to change. The plan is to keep the line to non-resident labor open, to ensure that those that are here aren't ever in a position to argue for improved wages, and to artificially keep minimum wage as low as possible.

This is the "plan", and it is one that will never draw locals into the private sector workplace. It will only maintain the very distorted status quo.

bigsoxfan said...

This could be the comment section of the week. Lil and Bruce head to head. I'm going to digest my dinner and weigh in tomorrow.

First thought is: Why?