Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Martinez: Think of Guam’s labor state after the buildup

Martinez: Think of Guam’s labor state after the buildup

Tuesday, 17 November 2009 01:53
by Jennifer Naylor Gesick and Romeo Carlos |
Variety News Staff

GUAM needs to come up with a study to determine the island’s future employment landscape after the military buildup is done, Guam Contractors Association president James Martinez said yesterday.

And based on that study, Martinez said, the education system must develop pertinent curriculum for the future workforce.

“We need to know what to train for,” the GCA president said. “Construction is easy, but we need to know about other jobs like doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers.”

The Trades Academy created by GCA is working to fill the approximately 8,000 sustainable positions in construction that will still be available after the initial construction boom associated with the military buildup.

While convinced that H2 workers should be the last resort, Martinez suggested that the training of local residents must be calibrated.

“You don't want to train 20,000 local residents for these construction positions, because what happens after it is done,” said Martinez. “There is such a thing as training too many people for one job.”

“The H-2 workers will come in and fill a temporary need, and when they leave we’re left with a higher trained workforce,” said Martinez.

Special interest

Senator Matt Rector, the labor advocate in the legislature, is displeased with Martinez’s argument.

“That is precisely the attitude that I have been trying to make people understand,” Rector said. “These special interests and large contractors see hundreds of millions of dollars on the table and they are remiss to share that with men and women on whose backs they are planning to earn that.”

The Democratic senator said the entire process of hiring foreign laborers on Guam should be reviewed before “…this whole thing takes off and is unstoppable.”

“We have heard that there are anywhere from five to six thousands of foreign workers on island right now, yet the official numbers would have the public believe that figure is less than 2,000. There is clearly something wrong with this picture,” Rector said.

Job preferences

But Martinez doubts that Guam has 20,000 residents who want to do construction. This is why Guam will have to look to the other islands in the CNMI, FSM, and the U.S., he added.

“Those workers might work like H2s and when the job is done they might go back home, or they might stay, but there will have to be lay off,” Martinez said.

“If we were planning to train 20,000 people, we would have started that 10 years ago. If only 8,000 workers are needed after the buildup, then what do we do with the other 12,000?” he asked.

“Training too many people will be detrimental to the community,” Martinez continued.

The Government Accountability Office study said the military will need 1,600 positions on base. “They are already cannibalizing local engineers for hotels and architecture firms,” said Martinez. “We need to develop a cadre of professionals to make up for that.”

“That is why we created GCA Trades Academy to upgrade skills and the H-2s will work to supplement, because at the end we will be left with a higher skilled and trained workforce,” said Martinez.

Resistance to fee

Rector, meanwhile, recalled that Martinez earlier said publicly that he thinks the current fee charged to companies for H2 workers is way too much.

“Though I introduced legislation that would have raised that fee considerably to protect jobs for our residents, it was also to ensure that the people of Guam who would be shortchanged on employment opportunities would not end up being stuck with having to shoulder the cost of taking care of workers cheated out of their earnings and stuck on Guam,” Rector said.

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