US Workforce Act focuses on local workers

First of a four-part series

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part series by Delegate Sablan detailing the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act, which he introduced in the House of Representatives on Jan. 19.

The purpose of economic development in the Marianas should be to make life better for all of us who live here.

To me that means making jobs available for our own people and being sure those jobs pay a decent wage that makes working worthwhile.

When we wrote the U.S. Workforce Act we spelled out three goals: increasing U.S. workers in the economy, making it more attractive for employers to hire U.S. workers, and protecting U.S. workers from being pushed aside by foreign workers. Here is how we do that:

Only if no local worker is able, willing, and qualified

The Act requires employers to get a foreign labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor before they even apply for a CW worker. That is new.

U.S. Labor has to certify that no U.S. worker is able, willing, and qualified for the job being offered. Labor also certifies that hiring the CW worker will not pull down the wages of U.S. workers in the same job.

This is the same certification required for other U.S. work visas. It adds another 30 days or so to the application process, and that is a burden on employers. But it is a major new protection for local workers, who feel overlooked by the CNMI’s own [job vacancy announcement] process and by employers who always go for the minimum wage CW workers.

Time to get serious about training

Training for local workers is another important part of the Workforce Act. Last year, I increased the fee that employers pay into a training fund; and the Workforce Act requires the fee to keep going up, year after year.

That adds to the cost of hiring a CW worker and makes employers think twice. Adding to the training fund should also increase the number of local workers who have the qualifications employers are looking for.

To date, the CNMI has gotten over $12 million in training money from local employers, but it is hard to say how many local workers have jobs as a result.

So, the Workforce Act requires the governor to submit a plan every year for how the money will be used and how many local workers will get jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor has to okay the yearly plan. And if local workers are not getting jobs, the plan will have to change before the CNMI gets any more money.

All that information will be available to the public, too. So, we can all see if we are making progress.

By the way, I would like to see these funds used to help pay for apprenticeships. My work on the House Education and Workforce Committee has taught me that on-the-job training is a proven method for getting people off the sidelines and into good-paying jobs.

Let me hear what you think

If you have any questions about how my U.S. Workforce Act helps local workers get jobs, please, let me know. My e-mail is kilili@mail.house.gov.

Next time, I will write about the protections for our local businesses contained in the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act.

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GREGORIO KILILI C. SABLAN, Special to the Saipan Tribune Author

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