Next week’s congressional debate about the U.S. military’s action in Syria further weakens the chance of passing a bill delaying the CNMI’s 50-cent minimum wage increase this year, with only nine available legislative days before the end of fiscal year 2013.
If the U.S. House of Representatives is unable to pass S. 256 in those nine legislative days, the CNMI’s minimum wage will automatically increase from the current $5.55 an hour to $6.05 an hour on Sept. 30.
A 2007 U.S. law requires an annual 50-cent minimum wage hike in the CNMI until it reaches the federal wage floor of $7.25 an hour.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) told Saipan Tribune yesterday that the critical debate about the U.S. military’s action in Syria has added to the host of issues competing for floor time, along with spending bills such as a continuing resolution to keep the U.S. government open on Oct. 1 and beyond.
“This and then the Syria debate are making it more difficult to bring up S. 256. I was more hopeful yesterday than I am today,” Sablan said.
But all is not lost, he said.
“We are still going to try and work hard,” the delegate added.
Alex Sablan, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, separately said yesterday that employers now have to brace for the minimum wage increase.
“It’s unfortunate that Congress may not be able to address the CNMI minimum wage increase delay for the CNMI. We thank Congressman Kilili and the rest of those that helped to support the effort. Unfortunately, more pressing issues in the world are taking precedence and so it does not look like we will have a minimum wage stay. So we are asking businesses to brace for that increase. Hopefully, they’ve already projected for the increase in their own budget,” he told Saipan Tribune at the Chamber membership meeting yesterday.
Since 2007, the annual 50-cent hike was delayed once, in 2011.
Willy Barbo, a 56-year-old hotel employee, said he is looking forward to a 50-cent increase in his minimum wage salary to keep up with the increased cost of consumer goods and services.
“I would be happier if there’s a salary increase than if there’s a delay. I have two children and it’s hard to keep up with all expenses with the minimum wage we have. But if the bill is not passed, then we don’t have a choice but to wait for another year,” Barbo said.
Jim Arenovski, president of Delta Management Corp. that operates Shell gas stations, separately said yesterday that like most businesses in the CNMI, they were hoping for a one-year reprieve in the minimum wage hike.
He said a delay in the wage hike would mean there would be more money for employee training and more opportunity for new or expanded investments, among other things.
Arenovski also said that Delta Management increases the wages not only of its minimum wage earners but the rest of their employees as well for fairness sake, every time there is a scheduled minimum wage hike.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said the administration will seek information from Delegate Sablan’s office regarding the bill delaying the minimum wage increase.
“Nonetheless, the administration is hopeful that Congress will act on the measure,” he added.
Before adjourning for the August recess, the U.S. Senate passed S. 256, a bill that would delay the 50-cent increase in the CNMI minimum wage on Sept. 30 this year and in 2015.
The same bill also extends the CW and E2-C investor visa program beyond Dec. 31, 2014, among other things.
If the 2013 minimum wage increase is skipped, it will “allow more time for businesses to adjust, the economy to improve, and the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on the effects of the wage increases,” Delegate Sablan said.
The next GAO report is due in April 2014.