House Democrats Poised to Introduce Mariana Islands Wage Hike Bill
House Democrats, led by Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (CA), intend to introduce legislation early in the new Congress that would raise the minimum wage for workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. A US territory in the Pacific Ocean, the Northern Mariana Islands are currently exempt from US minimum wage requirements and most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The economy on the islands is heavily dependent on garment factories that employ mostly migrant laborers for wages far under the US minimum wage, yet the clothing they produce is still allowed to carry a "Made in the US" label, The Hill reports.
Currently, employers must pay workers on the islands only $3.05 an hour, a wage that has not been raised in over a decade and can now afford just one gallon of gasoline, Saipan Tribune reports. The new legislation would require employers on the Northern Mariana Islands to pay the same amount as employers in the United States, which is currently $5.15 and which Democrats propose to raise to $7.25. Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) co-authored the "US-Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Human Dignity Act" with Rep. Miller in June 2006, which would have benefited Marianas workers, but stalled in committee. Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Speaker-Elect Pelosi, said, "the bottom line here is anyone who works under the American flag deserves to be paid a fair wage," The Hill reports.
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was employed by the government of the Northern Mariana Islands to work with Republican leaders to block legislation that would have increased the minimum wage. According to The Hill, the Northern Mariana Islands government and those with business interests there feared that a higher minimum wage would drive out factories that were attracted to the islands by cheap labor costs. With a new Democratic majority, however, Representative Miller and others hope to pass legislation that will benefit the islands' predominately female workforce.
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .