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Friday, April 18, 2014

$7.25 an hour minimum wage in 180 days pushed

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) pre-filed yesterday a bill that would increase “immediately”—or 180 days after it becomes law—the local minimum wage to $7.25 an hour to match the federal level.

Despite a 2007 U.S. law mandating the CNMI to increase its minimum wage by 50 cents every year until it reaches the federal wage floor of $7.25 an hour, nothing stops the CNMI from increasing its own local minimum wage. Under that U.S. law, the CNMI’s current $5.55 an hour minimum wage will increase to $6.05 an hour on Sept. 30.

Tebuteb said raising the CNMI minimum wage to match the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is “the right thing to do.”

He said a real living wage—one genuinely capable of supporting both the earner and his or her family—is needed in the CNMI to improve the economy and the wellbeing of the labor force.

Tebuteb, author of House Bill 18-173, said if a national immigration reform bill pending in U.S. Congress is signed into law with a CNMI-specific provision intact, then CNMI employers would be guaranteed access to employees, many of them willing to work for whatever salary is offered.

The CNMI awaits a U.S. Labor decision to extend the transitional CW program for five years. Without such an extension, the CNMI loses immediate access to over 10,000 foreign skilled and professional foreign workers after Dec. 31, 2014.

“After ensuring access to foreign labor for an additional five years, the least we could do is ensure that each and every worker earns no less than $7.25 an hour,” Tebuteb said.

He also said an extension without a commensurate salary increase to the federal minimum wage level “is nothing more than a selfish way to ensure cheap labor is available at the expense, once again, of our local residents and to the detriment of the entire non-local and local labor force.”

Tebuteb pre-filed HB 18-173 weeks after House floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) introduced a bill raising the CNMI local minimum wage—still pegged at $3.05 an hour—“to match the federal minimum wage applicable to the CNMI.”

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