Undoing the Abramoff Effect

By Maddy Sauer

Jan 3, 2007 12:31pm

Garment industry workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, who for years earned wages far below the federal minimum wage, may soon be on their way to making the same as workers in the U.S. Convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff had for years lobbied on behalf of the island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas. ABC News first reported on some of the lavish trips that Abramoff provided for politicians, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whom Abramoff took on a New Year’s holiday to Saipan in 1997. DeLay, his wife, daughter and several aides all stayed free at a beachfront resort. The trip was part of an effort by Abramoff to stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops in the American territory by applying U.S. labor law to workers there. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Payback Time: Who the Democrats Will Target Abramoff Reports to Prison; Officials Focus on Reid, Others Click Here to Watch the Latest Brian Ross Investigates Webcast Now with Abramoff behind bars and a new Democratic Congress, a new minimum wage bill to be introduced next week will also aim to raise the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands until it catches up with the newly proposed federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, is set to introduce the bill, which includes a provision to raise the minimum wage in the Northern Marianas by 50 cents every six months until it catches up with the newly proposed federal minimum wage. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. The current minimum wage in the Northern Marianas is $3.05 an hour, over $2 less an hour than the current federal minimum wage. "For years when people bought a garment that said ‘Made in the USA’ from Saipan, they thought they were buying something made by someone who was making a fair American wage," said Rep. Miller’s Chief of Staff Daniel Weiss. "Now this bill will begin the process to raise the minimum wage there." The resident representative of the Northern Mariana Islands, however, says the new bill will be disastrous for the islands’ economy. "We are very concerned about this rapid increase in the minimum wage," said Melinda Matson, Chief of Staff for Resident Representative Pedro Tenorio. "We’re looking at mass unemployment and a lot of human suffering." Matson said that Tenorio’s office asked Rep. Miller to amend the language so that the minimum wage would increase more slowly and by a lesser amount. As a resident representative, the Republican Tenorio does not have a vote in Congress but is able to testify before Congress about the islands’ concerns. "It’s very difficult for Mr. Tenorio not having a formal voice in Congress," said Matson. "It’s very easy to ignore his concerns."

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