Hagatna, Guam (Sept. 20, 2017) — Just a year ago on Guam, it cost about $80 per square foot to build a home. Today, that price has jumped to about $150 per square foot – that’s a near 100% increase – caused by a shortage in skilled workers.The economic and security concerns caused by the H2B labor shortfall were the gist of the Governor’s discussion today at Guam Contractors Association luncheon.Here is a quick rundown of the Governor’s meetings in Washington, D.C. relative to the H2B issue:
Governor Eddie Baza Calvo had several meetings, including one with with Sen. Murkowski, R- Alaska, and separate meetings with Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. His team also met with Department of Labor officials. In each, they discussed the impact of the 100% denial of H2B visa applications to bring skilled workers to Guam.
Sen. Murkowski is the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where she is the Chairman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee. She also is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Alaska, the senator noted, faces similar problems attracting laborers.
“We have civilian and military construction projects that cost billions of dollars,” Governor Calvo stated. “However, our current workforce is a fraction of what it needs to be.”
While it’s true that national lawmakers have increased caps on immigrant workers, Guam is exempt from these caps. So although recent legislation from the Hill offers respite for labor issues constricting the economies in various states that require seasonal workers to support cyclical labor needs such as landscaping and hotel services, the lack of skilled workers continues to stifle Guam’s economic growth.
The Governor was accompanied by Guam Department of Labor’s Director Sam Mabini and Administrator of Alien Labor Processing Greg Massey to answer questions that Murkowski and federal officials had and to help clarify any misconceptions surrounding the issue and to speak to Guam’s unique situation.
Director Mabini met with John Martin, Senior Policy Advisor of U.S. DOL Employment & Training Administration. She reiterated the H2B issues and also noted the efforts to develop a larger construction workforce. Currently, Guam has about 6,000 people in the construction workforce – that’s approximately 9% of Guam’s total workforce. More are needed however to fill the needs required by the additional civilian and military projects. Additionally, attracting skilled workers from the U.S. mainland is a challenge for Guam because of its distance.
Until recently, military projects had not been affected by the skilled worker shortage, and it was civilian projects that were feeling the brunt of the shortfall. That skilled labor shortfall has caused an increase in construction cost, which realtors noted the near doubled increase.
The Governor asked Sen. Murkowski to support the NDAA bill, which has two versions House and Senate. While the versions differ in caps and dates, they both allow H2B workers for military projects. Governor Calvo added, however, that while this helps it doesn’t solve Guam’s problem.
“This is where I had no choice to but withdraw support for the military buildup because it broke the ‘One Guam’ approach, which basically says, what’s good for this side of the military base is good for outside of the military base,” Governor Calvo stated. “And this labor shortage caused by the federal government illustrates that there is no ‘One Guam’ despite what what was agreed upon.
The Governor had a separate meeting with Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and acting USCIS Director James McCament at DHS headquarters in Washington DC.
They discussed possible solutions that DHS may consider that would allow reasonable access to the H2B worker program and provide relief to Guam’s contractors.The Governor also met with Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke; Acting Director James McCament, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service; Matt Hayden, Acting Deputy Asst. Security, DHS Partnership & Engagement; James D. Nealon, Asst. DHS Secretary of International Engagement; Gene Hamilton, DHS Senior Counselor; U.S. Department of Labor John Martin, Senior Policy Advisor, USDOL Employment and Training Administration; Ondray Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, USDOL ETA; and Sam Shellenberger, Dept. Asst. Secretary for Operations, USDOL, Veterans.