By Neil Abercrombie
July 11, 2009
Some in Guam have expressed strong opposition to provisions in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, passed overwhelmingly this week by the U.S. House, concerning military construction in Guam.
The measure authorizes a multi-year, multi-billion dollar building program to construct a new home for the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces and elements of other units stationed on the island of Okinawa and in mainland Japan for many years. This means building permanent military facilities to accommodate about 8,000 military personnel and as many as 9,000 family members. The move is the result of a lengthy and detailed agreement between the United States and Japan, under which the U.S. will pay about 40% of the cost.
When Members of the House Armed Services Committee considered the matter, we had two aims: 1.) to assure our men and women in uniform and their families high quality, comfortable and durable buildings and facilities in a secure environment in which they can work, train and live, and 2.) create stable, well-paid jobs for skilled American building and construction workers to replace some of the thousands of jobs lost in this economic recession,.
This five-year project will require 15,000 or more construction workers. Thousands will have to be recruited to relocate to supplement the local workforce. The legislation reserves 70% of those jobs for American workers.
My ideal for the quality of housing and facilities we want on Guam are the military construction projects in Hawaii and across the country through public-private joint ventures, in which companies win multi-year contracts to build, maintain, repair and manage family housing and other structures on a base. The company builds out the project and makes its money from the Basic Allowance for Housing paid by the military families who live in the housing. In Hawaii, we negotiated 50-year agreements with our construction companies at Schofield Barracks, Hickam Air Force Base, Pearl Harbor Naval Station and Marine Base Kaneohe. The product and the process have been widely praised by military families and military leaders.
Wages should be commensurate with the experience and skills of the building trades workers who can provide the quality construction our military personnel deserve. The legislation established wages at the level for similar projects in Hawaii, the closest U.S. labor market. Guam’s prevailing wage is significantly less than most U.S. labor markets; its tax base is limited; and its workforce has only a fraction of the trained and skilled people needed for this job.
The alternative is to outsource to Japanese companies that will bring in foreign workers, for which the Guam government collects a bounty of $1000 per head. This will open the door to profiteering and continued wage bondage, and be a slap in the face of every qualified, unemployed American worker.
Relocating thousands of military personnel and their families is a massive undertaking, and will dramatically alter Guam’s future. Building a new military base from scratch will take several years and billions of dollars. The project will offer thousands of local jobs, thousands more from outside, create opportunities for local small businesses and transform the economy of the island. It is also a singular opportunity to put Americans to work, in an American territory, building America’s future in the Pacific region. Economic security and national security go hand in hand.