House Democrats, led by Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (CA), intend to introduce legislation early in the new Congress that would raise the minimum wage for workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. A US territory in the Pacific Ocean, the Northern Mariana Islands are currently exempt from US minimum wage requirements and most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The economy on the islands is heavily dependent on garment factories that employ mostly migrant laborers for wages far under the US minimum wage, yet the clothing they produce is still allowed to carry a “Made in the US” label, The Hill reports.
Currently, employers must pay workers on the islands only $3.05 an hour, a wage that has not been raised in over a decade and can now afford just one gallon of gasoline, Saipan Tribune reports. The new legislation would require employers on the Northern Mariana Islands to pay the same amount as employers in the United States, which is currently $5.15 and which Democrats propose to raise to $7.25. Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) co-authored the “US-Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Human Dignity Act” with Rep. Miller in June 2006, which would have benefited Marianas workers, but stalled in committee. Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Speaker-Elect Pelosi, said, “the bottom line here is anyone who works under the American flag deserves to be paid a fair wage,” The Hill reports.
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was employed by the government of the Northern Mariana Islands to work with Republican leaders to block legislation that would have increased the minimum wage. According to The Hill, the Northern Mariana Islands government and those with business interests there feared that a higher minimum wage would drive out factories that were attracted to the islands by cheap labor costs. With a new Democratic majority, however, Representative Miller and others hope to pass legislation that will benefit the islands’ predominately female workforce.