Scramble on for prevailing wage survey

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Posted on Mar 21 2019
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From left, Matt DeLeon Guerrero of Hive Analytics and Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. officers and members Perry Inos Jr, Alex Sablan, Gloria Cavanagh, Josephine Mesta, and Viola Alepuyo at the general membership meeting of the Society for Human Resources Management held yesterday at Charley’s Restaurant of Pacific Islands Club in San Antonio. (Bea Cabrera)

The CNMI economy it seems is always running in a race for resources and time.

The Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. is currently taking the initiative to jumpstart the 2019 prevailing wage survey after working for the U.S. Workforce Act of 2018’s enactment last year.

A local prevailing wage survey is needed to set the salaries of applicants under CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program, which was extended another 10 years by the U.S. Workforce Act.

And the clock is ticking as application for the CW program opens next month.

To this end, NMBAC president Alex Sablan announced that the Saipan Chamber of Commerce has contracted Hive Analytics and DataTalks to conduct the CNMI prevailing wage survey.

“Data companies were contracted by SCC… but they are absolutely and only working with the U.S. and CNMI Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, and the Central Statistics Division…We need to get this done as quickly as possible,” Sablan said during yesterday’s Society for Human Resource Management meeting at Charley’s Cabaret of the Pacific Islands Club.

“We cannot wait for government procurements or process of hiring individuals to make this survey possible. We must make this now in order for you and all of us to have as much time of the 160 days provided for renewal with [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] and in meeting future requirements. If one of these regulations are dropped, hopefully soon, we have sufficient time from U.S. DOL through processing in the USCIS before the expiration on Sept. 30, 2019,” he said.

The urgency to come up with the CNMI prevailing wage was echoed by NMBAC officer Viola Alepuyo.

“[The] prevailing survey is driven by [CNMI] Commerce but since they do not have the resources and manpower, SCC said that it will step up to the plate and provide assistance because if we don’t, our businesses will be in jeopardy.”

“SCC has the biggest scope and breadth in understanding of the business community,” she added.

Sablan emphasized that the pitfall of not having a CNMI prevailing wage before CW renewals and applications is that employers will go after the Guam prevailing wage. “If the CNMI [prevailing] wage [survey] comes later in time, it is our belief that the current process is once you get the wage determination in your application is that your stuck with that number even on resubmittal.

“There is no way of going back to [the] CNMI prevailing wage and utilizing a new number that is less than what was determined. You are going to get caught with a higher impact of a Guam prevailing wage that is not sustainable in this current market of the economy…eventually, it will hurt foreign and U.S. workers alike,” he added

“The prevailing wage is now required under the CW program and so if you want to bring CW-1 worker you will have to pay for that prevailing wage for that occupation. The application is on April and so we are on a crunch in order to ensure that the wages that employers are submitting is representative of the actual value and current economic conditions of the CNMI for the particular sector,” Hive Analytic president Matt Deleon Guerrero said.

“I will be working with Will Maui of DataTalks who performed the last two prevailing wages for the Department of Commerce [and we] are going to be working together to try and figure out a way that we can take the lessons learned, the model used from the last three prevailing wages—2011, 2014, and 2016. We plan to develop a hybrid approach that allows for the absolute simplicity in filling out the prevailing wages so that we can get the data quicker,” he added.

Deleon Guerrero said that the key things in this process are data collection and the methodology that will be used to meet the validity requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor.

“What we have done is try to implement a system that’s going to be online as we are going to reach out to around 3,400 businesses that currently have business licenses on Saipan…everything will be automated so we get results accurately and quicker,” he said

“Next is to get approval from USDOL of the methodology that we are going to use so we can collect the information. Once we get approval from USDOL then we can start implementing the survey,” he added

According to Deleon Guerrero, the timeline for the 2019 Prevailing Wage Survey has four phases. “Phase 1 is contract initiation and survey development starting March 28, phase 2 is the first submission of wages on May 6, phase 3 is the second submission of wages on June 7, and phase 4 is the project completion by June 30,” he said.

“We are going to work heavily with USDOL and Department of Commerce to make sure that the validity of the survey is responsive and ensure data privacy within employer or company’s information. All the information will be accounted for, tabulated and checked within the locked doors of the Central Statistics Division,” he added.

Sablan said by law the CNMI prevailing wage is required to be renewed every calendar year. “Every January 1st, the CNMI must come up with a new prevailing wage. As soon as we are done with this one, the CNMI government will have to conduct another survey for Jan. 1, 2020… if we don’t, the overall economy will be affected—jobs will get slashed because people are not going to absorb the impact of the cost.

“We are down 30 percent already because we don’t have the tourist numbers and we’re still reeling from [Super Typhoon Yutu]. Hyper-inflation is real and we are looking at the overall impact of the economy here and we should always bear in mind that Guam’s living wage and our economy are different,” he added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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