House of Representative Republicans on Thursday introduced their own version of legislation increasing the federal minimum wage. The “Minimum Wage Competitiveness Act of 2006,” introduced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and 13 other Republicans, would raise the minimum wage from the current rate of $5.15 an hour to $7.15 an hour one year and 60 days after the enactment of the bill. Minimum wage legislation has previously been introduced by House Democrats, and in the Senate.
The bill also includes a minimum wage increase for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a territory of the US. The minimum wage of the Mariana Islands is only $3.15 an hour. Under the proposed legislation, the Marianas would receive an increase of 50 cents per hour every six months, until the minimum wage was equal to that of the US, which would take approximately four years.
The Mariana Islands are subject to US laws, but are currently exempt from US minimum wage requirements and most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Republicans’ minimum wage bill would apply the Fair Labor Standards of 1938 to the CNMI, in hopes of improving dire working conditions. Some 30,000 temporary “guestworkers” – predominately women – from China, the Philippines, and Thailand work in the Northern Mariana Islands, but are reduced to little more than indentured servants due to the high recruitment fees and the low minimum wage.
Since 1995 at least 29 different bills regarding labor and immigration issues in the Northern Mariana Islands have been introduced. Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked on behalf of the Marianas government and its garment industry to ensure that Congress would not pass laws to improve wages and working conditions for the Marianas workers. Tom DeLay, one of Abramoff’s staunch Congressional allies, helped in keeping any bills regarding the Marianas from reaching the House floor, according to Rep. Miller, and even called the Marianas “a Petri dish of ‘capitalism’.”