CNMI Senate Passes Increase Of Minimum Wage To $7.25

Governor pushes accelerated timetable for increase to federal wage rate

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 6, 2016) – The Senate on Wednesday amended then passed a measure increasing the local minimum wage to $7.25 per hour which is the current federal rate.

H.B. 19-23 now returns to the House of Representatives.

Gov. Ralph Torres, who is expected to sign the bill once it reaches his desk, told the Saipan Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that with the “period of rapid economic growth and the potential for even greater growth in the coming year, now is the time to implement the minimum wage increase to the federal level of $7.25 and not two years from now.”

Under federal law, the local rate has been gradually increased and is now $6.55. It was to continue increasing until it reached the federal level two years from now.

According to the governor, “so many dramatic changes have occurred over the past months and so much development has taken place.”

He said his administration is working on the final stages of “the first ever public transportation system that will transport workers to their jobs, students to their schools and provide the opportunity for every resident to have an alternative” when making one’s way through the island.

He said the economy “continues to make a dramatic rebound with small businesses opening up and providing a diversity of goods for island consumers.”

He added, “The past months have showcased that in times of economic growth, entrepreneurs can thrive. But these past months have also offered a dramatic reminder of the vulnerability we all operate in. The success of our private sector allows for success in the public sector and when you do not have the labor to run your operations, we have less to contribute to meeting the needs of our students, our public safety and our basic infrastructure.”

Torres said some members of the U.S. Congress recognize that the end of the transition period in 2019 may cause great damage to this community.

However, he said there are some in the community who do not realize the importance that the economy has to the many families struggling to make ends meet.

“Those opposed to the extension of the federal immigration transition period claim that we can have a viable economy without the contributions of our foreign worker colleagues. That we have enough local workers to meet the growing demand. As much as I would like this to be so, it is simply not the case.”

Torres said there is a need to increase the labor force by 50 percent or by 11,000 more workers in the next five years.

“Even if we were to take every graduate entering the labor force from the Public School System and every graduate from Northern Marianas College and Northern Marianas Trades Institute every year, until 2021, we would only have half the numbers needed and that is if every single one of the 5,000 potential workers want to work on the island on these specific projects.”

The governor commended the business community for training local workers and hiring U.S. citizens in an effort to foster the economic development in the CNMI.

In the Senate chamber

All nine senators voted yes to the passage of House Bill 19-23 as amended by the Senate to increase the commonwealth minimum wage to $7.25 an hour; and House Bill 19-3 which will enact a new base salary schedule for classified civil service government employees, and increase the salary ceiling for classified civil service government employees.

The Senate also passed House Bill 19-139 which will exempt the Commonwealth Development Authority and the Commonwealth Ports Authority from salary limitations imposed by the Compensation Adjustment Act.

Sen. Sixto Igisomar said they must act on these measures because “inflation is already at about 180 percent and the people from both the private and government sectors have suffered too long with the high cost of living and for having negative disposable incomes.”

Sen. Jude Hofschneider said this is the right time to implement a salary increase because the last time government employees received a salary adjustment was more than two decades ago.

But he also asked government employees “to continue to serve the public because that is why we are all here — to serve the public.”

Former senator and now CPA board member Pete Reyes thanked the Senate for acting on House Bill 19-139 which he said will allow CPA to adjust the salaries of its employees some of whom, he added, are being paid at below minimum wage rates.

Marianas Variety
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