Kennedy Adds Amendment to Raise Minimum Wage, Includes Mariana Islands

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has offered an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill that would raise the minimum wage for American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 over about two years, including workers in the US territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The current minimum wage in the CNMI is only $3.15, compared to $5.15 in the United States. Kennedy’s amendment would require a 50-cent per-hour raise every six months until the Mariana Islands’ minimum wage meets the federal standard. A bill addressing similar issues was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month by Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Hilda Solis (D-CA), and John Spratt (D-SC).

The Marianas are subject to US laws, but are exempt from US minimum wage requirements and most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Currently, some 30,000 temporary “guestworkers” Ñ predominately women Ñ from China, the Philippines, and Thailand sew clothing for top-name American brands, which are then allowed to label the clothes Made in Saipan (USA), Made in Northern Mariana Islands (USA) or Made in the USA. Reduced to little more than indentured servants due to the high recruitment fees and the low minimum wage, many of these women have been subjected to long working hours (some up to 20 hours a day or even off the clock), and poor living conditions, according to an investigative report in Ms. magazine.

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’.”

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Statement of Sen. Edward Kennedy 6/19/06; Feminist Daily News Wire 5/8/06, 6/8/06; Ms. Magazine Spring 2006

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