Friday, September 17, 1999

Marianas leaders
find a sympathetic
ear at the latest
congressional hearing

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- For the second time this week, political leaders from the Northern Mariana Islands yesterday defended themselves before a congressional committee against charges of persistent labor and civil rights violations in the islands' textile industry.

This time, they appeared to have more allies among the lawmakers.

"I'm quite pleased with what's occurred under your leadership," Human Resources Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, told the Marianas elected officials, most of whom came into office last year. "I've seen great progress in the past year-and-a-half."

The sympathy was enough to convince the islands' most vigorous critic, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., that the federal intervention he and others have sought to curb the abuses would not be ordered by this Congress.

In the past 15 years, the Marianas have built their economy on a booming garment industry overwhelmingly reliant on cheap, imported labor from other Pacific nations.

More than half the people living in the Marianas now are foreign workers. Critics say those workers are often treated little better than slaves, paid poor substandard wages and forced to live in barbed-wire communities.

At yesterday's hearing, Marianas leaders argued that they have moved to solve many of the problems.

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