Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sour Grapes for Tuesday, January 1st 2008

Working on the Railroad
Labor Abuse
I and a few hundred other people were at the Labor Department Processing Office last week standing in interminable lines. The reasons for the lengthy wait for service are twofold:

First, there are lots of contract workers trying to get in under the deadline to be consensually or otherwise transferred before the new labor regulations come into effect on Jan. 1st. 2008. Many hundreds of them, perhaps a couple of thousand have come forward in the past few weeks to beat that deadline, after which they cannot transfer without an administrative order and some serious hoop jumping.

Second, a couple of months ago Labor Department management decided to reallocate manpower to reduce the then large backlog of labor processing applications. Because of a lack of funds and a lack of manpower it was decided to split the workday into mornings during which Labor Department employees work on clearing the backlog of applications and afternoons when the service windows open up allowing new applications and other business to be transacted.

The second of these reasons brings us around to the subject of this article, labor abuse. The ones being abused here are the Labor Department employees. They are required to come to work at the regular time early in the morning and work for half a day on the paperwork backlog mentioned above. Then after a lunch break they are tasked to come back to work and do another entire days work of accepting and verifying new applications and all other window service tasks but have only the afternoon hours to accomplish it. In other words they must do another whole days work in half a day.

The right way to clear this big backlog might be to hire temporary manpower to do the grunt work. 10 or 15 data entry and filing clerks could do the drudgery while a couple of knowledgeable Labor Department employees could oversee and check their work. Another possibility would be to allow overtime for the entire staff, say 2 to 4 hours per day until the backlog is cleared. I’m sure management thought about these solutions and said “nice options but where do we get the money to pay the salaries or the overtime?”

So what it all boils down to is a group of hard pressed individuals down there in Processing are working doubletime and regular hours ‘overtime’ without benefit of being paid for the extra work. I’ve been there transacting applications two or three times in the last couple of months and saw these folks gamely trying to keep up with this pace and doing so with a great deal of skill and with smiles on their faces. The other sections like JVA and Records and Enforcement and Hearings are also in for a lot of extra work in the coming months as new labor regulations go into effect and contract workers shuffle to try to stay here in the CNMI.

Labor Department employees’ jobs are not likely to become easier in the coming months, and the workload will probably increase instead of decrease. Add to this the looming possibility that a federal takeover of Labor and Immigration may be imposed by the US causing some or all of them to lose their jobs altogether. Both are tough on morale.

I for one am amazed at the show of good spirit shown by these hard working individuals and I salute them for their diligent efforts. If the workload without overtime doesn’t ease up soon maybe they should walk across the hallway and file a labor case. (Kidding there).
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Omnibus Railroad
If you are watching right now you can see from current events how the US system of government works. Lobbyists and other paid special interest groups suggest a course of action. Some of these special interests are from inside the government, others come from outside. Closed-door inner sanctum committee meetings are held where other insider special interest government groups, committees, staffers and others draft the legislation, often with a self interest agenda to push or a chip on their shoulder to avenge. Bills are then packaged together, dozens sometimes, seldom if ever read by lawmakers, claimed by their sponsors to be uncontested then passed while most members are back in their home states diddling the wife and vacationing on the taxpayers dime. Four senators and a sticky dress aide are often enough to get the legislation passed.

In our case they disguise a federal takeover of the CNMI as a tree hugger/feel good package of “uncontested” environmental measures. Seriously, the bill designed to terminate self government in the Marianas is hidden inside a package called the National Parks, Forests, Parks, Public Land and Reclamation Act of 2007. Does that sound like a federal takeover bill to you? Want to guess how many US Senators will actually read even part of even one of the ‘nearly 60’ bills packaged inside S.2483? My guess is zero. Want to guess how many even realize they will be voting on a measure to nullify government autonomy in the CNMI? I wonder who else is being screwed to the wall by other bills hidden in this ‘uncontested omnibus’ package?

This is sadly, not an unusual strategy. Committee chairman Sen. Bingaman is ‘delighted’ and hopes for speedy passage of the unread bills. I bet he is. I wonder what his cut will be?

So American History and Civics teachers take note. If you are still giving kids in your government school classes the party line egalitarian, citizen-representative, bills passed on their merits story; you are doing them a huge disservice. Tell them how the system really works. Wake them up to reality. The system touted as a measure to facilitate flow of legislation is really a system of pat-my-back-I’ll-pat-yours patronage where US Senate and Congressional votes are traded like cattle at auction to the highest bidder. Nothing new there, it just happens to be affecting us directly this time.
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Quotes of the week:
A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

The history of an oppressed people is hidden in the lies and the agreed myth of its conquerors. Meridel Le Sueur (1900-1996)

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