Saturday, December 19, 2009

The minimum wage (and other one-liners)

Yes, I said the U.S. Department of Labor's first minimum wage report was a joke, but that's not what I'm talking about.

It's just that the next 50 cent bump in the CNMI's minimum wage has slipped four months to Sept. 30, 2010, according to this line in the Conference Committee Report, according to the Saipan Tribune: "The conference agreement includes a general provision proposed by the Senate that delays until September 30, 2010, and until September 30 of each year thereafter, scheduled minimum wage increases in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands."

That's the one-line I'm talking about, and it makes sense to wait until DOL has had another chance to come up with a serious product based on real data. I reserve the right to scoff again, but for now I agree with the Governor's spin-doctor of jurisprudence that changes should be "based on objective and informed economic studies to properly guide federal wage policy on the islands."

I can't resist noting in passing that this provision seems to have been added quietly, with none of the warbling coming from the Senate when the minimum wage was raised originally.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has a point when he says "This also brings some economic relief, especially considering the challenges of federalization and the economic downturn." Four months isn't much anyway, and the Commonwealth is going through some pretty big changes.

Also, if you read the Carbon Copy coming out of Copenhagen, it's clear that energy prices will keep going up. Food prices, shipping rates, gasoline, jet fuel and your CUC bill aren't back to last year's peak, but we've gotten used to the new levels.

People compartmentalize, and while they'll still fill their tank, and not many can afford to go 'off the grid', they're more than willing to resist when other businesses try to recover their costs. In short, while I still favor increasing the minimum wage, I'd like to see what effect it's had so far.

Arrested development

Even the burglars are suffering; they have to make more than one trip: Koblerville church burglarized, again. And, by gosh, we're going to do something about what Department of Public Safety Commissioner Santiago F. Tudela calls "barbaric and intolerable acts". Something like going back to 2002, evidently the last time there was a burglary task force.

Yes, DPS has a lot of officers in the Army Reserve and is undermanned when they are deployed. Still, I'd be less sarcastic if it appeared DPS had acted on its own. Tuesday, KSPN-2's Bob Coldeen reported on his own burglary and several others he had heard of, adding that DPS said they would provide more information Thursday. It's hard to believe they hadn't checked their own statistics before that.

Waiting for Thursday, I visited the DPS website. The TASC/Human Trafficking link didn't even work. It's obvious that, like most CNMI Government websites, it was created and then barely maintained. (Want to check the Sex Offender Registry?) I also stopped by the Criminal Justice Planning Agency, but they only had statistics for one year- 2004. In an email, I politely suggested that they might have forgotten to post other years, but haven't gotten a response yet.

That's history, at least TASC is back in business. In fact, we're told that Lt. Kevin Aldan of the Fire Division will be training 20 police cadets next year.

Uphill, a battle

Maybe we should call it the Northern Marianas College Board of Directed instead of Board of Regents. The Saipan Tribune's latest episode of the NMC soap opera included this choice tidbit from Regent Janet King: "I am presently ordered specifically by the president to 'cease' making comments to the media, because my comments 'undermine' the office of the president, the Board of Regents, and the college community."

Really, I've just been watching, and chatting with a few people who resigned. I don't know enough about the battle lines to chip in. Like many others, I admire the contributions of Sam McPhetres. I was puzzled that he will not have his contract renewed. But I was waiting for him to comment, and he speaks very eloquently for himself.

Really messy surgery

Good news from the Commonwealth Health Center: Public Health Secretary Kevin Joseph Villagomez says new doctors are on the way. "Most of the six physicians will come from the U.S. mainland, he said." (No word on what parts come from elsewhere.)

Maybe I'm being unfair, and either the Secretary or the reporter was having a bad day. For instance, later in the story we get the equally vague "DPH is the largest government agency in terms of hiring nonresident workers, now estimated at over 200. Most are either nurses or doctors."

A milk-curdling cry

Now that I've picked a few nits, it's time to say I don't think life as we know it will end because Gov. Benigno R. Fitial was re-elected. I disagree with some (a lot) of his policies. I think Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider would probably have been a good Governor. So what?

Why are so many people crying over spoiled, spilled milk? Let's return to reality. The problems don't change because a different man is in office. Honestly, early in the Hofschneider campaign, I saw him standing with some (I said some) supporters and almost shuddered. 'These are the guys who got us to this point,' I thought. I can say the same thing about some Fitial supporters. Strange political bedfellows.

Former Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez is a prime example. Before I'd heard of Rydlyme, I thought he shouldn't be involved in CUC, simply because he had been so involved in getting it to its present state. Maybe the Aggreko generators would not have been necessary -- and I think they were -- if someone else had been in charge from the beginning of the Fitial Administration. We'll never know.

Many of my friends lost their jobs in 2006. Many other friends would have lost their jobs if Hofschneider had won. For those in political positions, that's life, in the CNMI or anywhere else.

Years ago, I learned that you can stop hyperventilating if you take a deep breath. That's my resolution for the New Year.


Pacific Home Health Care said...

I liked your post. As far as CHC, I don't think they have actually hired anyone. 4 days ago they wrote about hiring doctors from the Philippines if negotions went well and declaring a state of the emergency.

Since the CW visa is on hold, the only option in hiring is U.S. licensed doctors that are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Foreign U.S. licensed doctors could work at CHC with an "H" or "J" visa but the prevailing wages must be offered, and they must advertise the positions at that wage and show no U.S. workers are available. The prevailing wages may be higher than some of the current local doctors make working at CHC. The normal CHC procedure of hiring, then approving an over-the-cap salary will not work with foreign hires.

KAP said...

Thank you. I'm glad to see you're writing again. You have an interesting perspective. I used to check in a couple of times a week; it looks like I stopped at about the time you started again.

The Secretary is a nice guy, or was when I used to run into him, but from his quotes in recent stories he seems to be a little 'out of the loop'. I don't know if that's because he just got back or because of the State of Emergency.

From a story I saw a week or so ago, it sounds like it would be pretty straightforward to get a prevailing wage determination from U.S. DOL, but you're right about the salary cap.

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