CNMI construction wages will have to match Hawaii, Guam


The CNMI departments of Commerce and Labor and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce are combining their efforts to get the federal government to agree on terms to extend the “validity” of the 2014 wage prevailing survey past its October 2016 expiration date.

If the validity is not extended, the CNMI may be forced to match the much higher prevailing wage rates for Hawaii and Guam. This could potentially exacerbate efforts to move construction workers under the contract worker program to the H-visa class, where workers must be paid prevailing wage and for which the CNMI doesn’t have a set cap on workers.

According to a February listing from GovGuam, Guam pays prevailing wage rates ranging from $10.54 to $17.92 for its H-2B construction workers.

Hawaii, according to its Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, pays hourly rates well over $30 for some classes of its construction workers, for example.

The CNMI’s 2014 Prevailing Wage Workforce Assessment Study determined prevailing wage hourly rate for construction workers at $6.73.

The PWWAS is only valid for two years, for which the CNMI’s 2014 survey will expire in October 2016, Labor Secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.

She said Department of Commerce Secretary Mark Rabauliman and herself are both working closely on this matter to request the Office of Foreign Labor Certification, or OFLC, to extend the validity of the CNMI’s 2014 past its expiration in October 2016.

They want the PWWAS extended “until the new minimum wage of $6.55 and other relevant wage information settles in and the survey is officially completed and federally accepted for employers to process their LCA [Labor Condition Application] submissions to the OFLC,” she said in email.

“This is very important so that other regional prevailing wages such as Guam or Hawaii’s are not applied to CNMI employer’s LCAs post expiration of October 2016 of the current prevailing wage,” DeLeon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.

Rabauliman told Saipan Tribune that—in line with the Gov. Ralph DLG Torres administration’s policy of encouraging construction workers to pursue H2-B visas—and the governor’s support of Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan’s (Ind-MP) bill to extend transition period for contract worker program, increase the contract worker cap, and tie wages for CW workers to the prevailing wage rate—it was “imperative” that the CNMI ensure validity of the 2014 PWWAS until the completion of its upcoming 2016 prevailing wage survey.

The MOU would request U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to seek extension of the CNMI 2014 PWWAS, while the 2016 survey is ongoing until its completion, he said.

“The significance of this is to ensure continuity of its validity until we publish the new rates so as not to have either Guam or Hawaii’s wages applied to the CNMI past its expiration,” Rabauliman told Saipan Tribune in an email. “I would be seeking a six-month extension after the 2016 October expiration while we launch the survey, capture, and tabulate the data and finally publish.”

“If the MOU is accepted it will ensure continuity for businesses as they apply for CW,” he added. “Commerce and Labor are working closely on this issue.”

Saipan Chamber of Commerce executive director Jill Arenovski said the Chamber is in communication with the Commerce and Labor departments and is lending its support.

“We are currently inquiring about the MOU and what we may do to assist,” she added.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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