||Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is calling upon Walter Williams, a nationally syndicated columnist, to apologize for his ‘breathtakingly stupid’ comments about the productivity of Samoan cannery workers.
In a recent column re-published in part by Samoa News on May 25, 2010 entitled ‘Minimum wage laws don’t fight poverty’ about the effects of Congress’ 2007 minimum wage increase on the canning industry in American Samoa, Williams states:
“It’s breathtakingly stupid to think of minimum wages as an anti-poverty tool.’
‘Poor people are not poor because of low wages. For the most part, they’re poor because of low productivity, and wages are connected to productivity.’
“Walter Williams’ ‘breathtakingly stupid’ comments remind me of what the U.S. tuna industry said about Samoan cannery workers in 1956 when Van Camp, later known as Chicken of the Sea, lobbied the U.S. Congress to suppress wages in American Samoa,” Faleomavaega said.
“At that time, Van Camp employed about 300 women. Commenting on the company’s desire to pay Samoan workers 27 cents per hour as opposed to the prevailing U.S. minimum wage rate of $1 per hour, Van Camp said:
The difference in labor costs is attributed to the lower production output in Pago Pago, where we have found that it takes from 3 to 5 Samoans to produce what 1 stateside employee can produce.
The company has found that it takes from 3 to 5 Samoan workers to perform what 1 continental worker in the United States will do. It is therefore felt that this justifies a lower rate for Samoans.
“As an African-American whose people have been subjected to similar prejudice, Williams should know better than to suggest that poor people are poor because of low productivity. Samoan cannery workers are not lazy, and before writing a column about workers he knows little about, Williams should know better than to imply that they are.”
“For the record, Samoan cannery workers are productive – so productive that they made StarKist and Chicken of the Sea two of the leading and most profitable brands of canned tuna in the U.S. Off the backs of Samoan cannery workers, mostly women, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea, which have operated in American Samoa for some 50-years, have exported about $100 billion dollars of canned tuna from American Samoa to the United States where corporate executives and shareholders have lined their pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits while Samoan cannery workers barely make ends meet and receive a measly pension of about $100 per month after 20-years of productive service.”
“In no way are Samoan cannery workers’ wages connected to productivity, as Williams suggests. And, as a matter of information, after some 55 years of doing business in American Samoa and only one day after the islands were struck by the most powerful earthquake of 2009 which set off a tsunami that left behind untold damage and destruction, Chicken of the Sea showed its gratitude to Samoan cannery workers by closing down its operations and outsourcing some 2,000 jobs to Thailand where workers are paid $0.75 cents and less per hour. To take advantage of U.S. duty-free treatment, Chicken of the Sea set up a skeletal operation in Lyons, Georgia where the company is now paying 200 cannery workers twice as much per hour as it ever paid one Samoan.”
“Shame on Chicken of the Sea. And shame on Walter Williams for asking –
‘Which is preferable for the Samoan worker – being employed at $3.25 an hour or being unemployed at $5.25?
“What is preferable is to do right by poor people. Anything less, including ‘breathtakingly stupid’ comments which imply that poor people should be treated like second class citizens have no place in public debate.”
“In the future, I am hopeful that when Samoa News chooses to post links or re-publish in part columns by Williams that it will be more forthcoming with our people about identifying who Williams really is. Samoa News only noted that Williams is with Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Daily Tribune only noted that Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.”
“Samoa News and the Columbia Daily Tribune failed to state that Williams is also a syndicated columnist who is associated with Conservative Republican political columns and Right Wing News. His syndicated column is distributed by Creators.com and his latest column about Samoan workers has also been published by Townhall.com, the #1 conservative website which ‘arms conservatives with the tools and information necessary to have an impact in shaping the news,’ according to the site.”
“In my opinion, Williams’ recent column about American Samoa has little to do with economics. His agenda is political. And while he has every right to promote his right-wing ideology, the people of American Samoa have every right to know what it is he is promoting.”
“Throughout the U.S., Williams entitled his column ‘Minimum wage cruelty update’ and used his national platform to exploit Samoan cannery workers for the sake of criticizing and taking cheap shots at the Obama Administration. Williams’ actions were cruel and he owes our Samoan workers an apology for insinuating that they deserve to be poor.”
“And about his comment regarding ‘labor unions spending millions lobbying for minimum wage increases,’ I hope next time around Williams will write a more fair and balanced column specifying that ultra-conservatives whose views he represents also spend millions lobbying. The only difference is ultra-conservatives spend millions to suppress rather than increase the wages of our lowest paid workers and that is the cruelest update of all,” Faleomavaega concluded.