Guam governor says military 'cannibalising' work force
The Governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, says the cannibalisation of his territory's workforce has forced him to withdraw support for the military buildup.
The number of United States military personnel on Guam is increasing from six to 11 thousand as troops are relocated from Japan.
Mr Calvo told Ben Robinson Drawbridge the build-up has coincided with the federal government's decision to reduce the number of foreign workers on the island.
EDDIE CALVO: I want to preface this by stating that I have been the biggest, or one of the biggest advocates for the military build-up in Guam, particularly the re-alignment of a proportion marine forces from Okinawa to Guam. I think in the short-term I think it would be good for Guam's economy, it will also build jobs in the long-term. We are also an American territory, we understand what that means in term of security of Guam and the security of American allies and the security of their allies' interest in the region and stability in the region. With that belief I signed a programmatic agreement moving forward with the defence department within three months of being sworn in as governor. But the programmatic agreement that I signed, it entailed a One Guam approach, where in a nutshell - what's good inside the fence, is good outside the fence. And with this increased military presence in Guam and the construction activities leading up to it that would not have any negative impact on our island or our economy. It appears that I have gone 180 degrees from the standpoint of some folks, but in reality it was not me who broke the agreement, it was the federal government that breached out programmatic agreement and the spirit of the One Guam approach. There has been no new law and no new law change - we have had a certain number of temporary H2B workers - visa workers in Guam since post-World War Two. To grow our economy we have had our normal US citizen workforce which makes up the majority of our construction workers, but there is also a large percentage that are H2 workers and in January 2016 a decision was made and we're still trying to find out, to reverse that policy where we once had close to 100 percent approval for new or approval for renewals H-2B visas went to a near 100 percent denial of new visas or renewals. Where we once had a year ago1300-plus H2 workers, we are, as of this week 170. It appears that a number of the construction companies with in the base - obviously these are multi-million dollar contracts they are paying top dollar and they're cannibalising many workers who are left in Guam and they're taking them their companies and now they're working within the gate. There has been no disruption in military construction at the same time, outside the gate anyone who's trying to build a house, anyone who's trying to do some major repair work comes even to the point of repairing your air conditioning system - these projects you're either not going to find someone to do them or if you do get them, the price is going to go up dramatically. For a house you're looking at a mere doubling for low or middle income-type of house it also means extended timetables. You can't have any guarantees a better project will be finished within certain dates because of the uncertainty of the labour force. Even now with only the beginning phases of the military construction you're seeing a severe impact on our local economy and the construction activity as a result of a unilateral act by the federal government in reducing our workforce and to this point it has also had no impacts inside the gate and it is having severe impacts outside the gates, which I believe is in breach of the programmatic agreement and with that I have to withdraw my backing of this build-up. I would like to see a cessation of any additional projects until this issue can be resolved.
BEN ROBINSION-DRAWBRIDGE: So it does seem, however, a rather extreme step. Even Guam's own chamber of commerce is questioning whether you have exhausted all diplomatic solutions here.
EC: Right now you're seeing the tail-end of a long process. For over a year I have been, not only, been making personal visits - thousands of miles to Washington DC, not only discussions with elected officials and appointed officials, but also correspondences from the President down I've been doing everything possible to tell them what direction the island was going on the crisis this island's economy was going on. And it has been, on a near-weekly basis that I have making these communications. So everybody saw this train coming. I have exhausted all means through normal channels and I've seen us go from 13000 workers to 170 workers, where I waited until we are now having a doubling of prices in homes. so the question I have for everybody else is: how far do you want this to go?