Hiring employees from Freely Associated States or even from the U.S. mainland would still not be enough. CNMI employers have in fact taken these steps and have found out that these are not viable solutions, according to Jim Arenovski, who addressed Saipan Chamber of Commerce members in yesterday’s monthly meeting at the Fiesta Resort & Spa’s Hibiscus Hall.
Arenovski, who operates Island Training Solutions, joined Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres in speaking before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. last week.
He was part of the CNMI delegation that testified in connection with House Resolution 339 or the NMI Economic Expansion Act that Sablan introduced in the U.S. House.
Island Training Solutions is the regional licensee for the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute that provides hospitality training and professional certification.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office is recommending that CNMI employers should recruit U.S. eligible workers from the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap), the Marshall Islands, and Palau.
“GAO said one of the solutions is you could go to FSM to pick up employees. Everybody in this room has done that. But we’re not talking about hundreds, only dozens. This is not a viable answer,” said Arenovski.
“It is an answer and you might find a few good accountants or some with good technical skills but, at the end of the day, that is not a solution.”
Hepointed out that Freely Associated States have a limited labor pool since they are also a small economy like the CNMI.
“Quite frankly, if you ever get the chance to talk to leaders from Kosrae, Pohnpei or Yap, they are somewhat resentful.”
“They are not happy that we come and take away their employees. They also have small economies of their own, like us here in the CNMI. This is not a viable answer and not a solution.”
Arenovski said that hiring and bringing in workers from the mainland is also tough. “We’ve gone to the U.S. to recruit people. Housing is an issue, our medical facilities are not top, and power is always at risk.”
“And these are not great points to bring people to the CNMI. The Senate needs to understand this kind of thinking is not easy.”
He said the Senate committee also cited the CNMI’s minimum wage, which is not yet at the federal level of $7.25 per hour. “We’re getting to the federal level. Our economy is growing so our minimum wage is also going up.”
“The technical jobs here are in line with the mainland and there are many employers here that are paying above minimum wage. We are in a competition with each other and for the first time in a long time, we raised our minimum wages.”
SCC president Velma Palacios said they also provided a letter of support on Sablan’s H.R. 339 and at the same time submitted written testimony that details the progress of the business sector in following federal laws and the need of the foreign workforce.
“Our testimony discussed the progress we’ve managed to accomplish in hiring U.S. eligible workers, the increase in wages beyond what is mandated by law, our continued need for foreign workers due to the expansion of our economy and being able to sustain that growth.”
“We still need our foreign labor force for this growing economy. That is what we wanted to impress upon our federal government, that we still need some type of foreign workers’ assistance. We also addressed the struggles encountered in hiring locally or in bringing other U.S. eligible workers to our remote island,” added Palacios.
She said local businesses must maintain a high standard and ethics when it comes to employment procedures in order for the CNMI not to commit its past mistakes. “The associations of past wrongs have given the NMI an unfavorable reputation.”
“It has been difficult to change those opinions. Wrongdoings are being amplified and set as the accepted norm for our island, and it is up to us to run our businesses with the highest standards.”
H.R. 339 would raise the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Nonimmigrant visa numerical cap for fiscal year 2017 by 2,002 to 15,000, it would increase the training fee being collected from $150 to $200, and it would permanently prohibit CW1 permits from being issued to construction workers, except for those that had already been issued before Oct. 1, 2015.