Guam Daily Post - Editorial: 'Hire American' rule might be detrimental to Guam in the short term
President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech on Saturday outlined how he’d like to shape America.
“We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American,” says a transcript of his speech.
Buying American-made goods first, and prioritizing American workers for jobs would help the nation’s factories, workers and the economy in the long run, but Trump’s rules could complicate what already is a looming crisis for Guam.
Hard to attract stateside workers
Because of the island’s distance from the mainland United States, it isn’t easy for Guam to attract stateside workers with specialized skills in the construction and health-care industries.
For decades, Guam has relied on filling that labor gap by hiring foreign workers for temporary work under the H-2B visa program, from nearby countries, primarily the Philippines.
The H-2B workers are brought in for specific projects, and when the projects are done, they get sent back to their home countries.
But just as construction projects related to the development of an $8 billion-plus Marine Corps base and related facilities are to ramp up this year, Guam’s H-2B labor pool for the construction industry is drying up.
The construction industry, some industry experts have said, is nearing a critical phase.
Companies' petitions rejected
Guam companies’ petitions for workers on H-2B visas have had a near-100 percent rejection rate over the past several months, Gov. Eddie Calvo said last year.
Federal government representatives, however, said the H-2B program is meant to be temporary, and after decades of continuous hiring for H-2B workers, employers’ petitions are now being closely scrutinized.
There are H-2B petitions that the federal government has rightly questioned, such as for coffee shop managers, restaurant cooks, wedding coordinators, or massage therapists. These are jobs that the local workforce can do, or train for.
However, it takes years for the construction industry to massively get workers to be certified trades people in specialized skills for construction work.
Another key part of Trump’s inauguration speech is his emphasis on what he called “the very sad depletion of our military.”
'Tip of the spear'
In Guam, the military has been building up, with tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in construction projects a year.
The biggest part of the military buildup in Guam, however, has hit delays.
While Pentagon officials have called Guam the “tip of the spear” in the nation’s defense in the Asia-Pacific, the military buildup tempo on the island has been caught in various logistical, cost, political, environmental and other bureaucratic snags.
The Marine Corps base project was first discussed sometime in 2006.
Eleven years later, construction for actual buildings for this planned Marine Corps base has yet to rise, although the Marine Corps has renovated a former barracks in Finegayan as temporary headquarters.
In contrast, a major U.S. competitor, China, has built entire islands and anti-missile fortresses in a just two years in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon under Trump and a new set of members of Congress would need to be more aggressive in helping the military buildup in Guam, including finding an avenue to resolve the labor shortage.
Failure to do so would make “the tip of the spear” reference to Guam meaningless.