Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter dated May 24, 2007 he has provided the Governor and the Fono with further updates regarding minimum wage increases for American Samoa and CNMI. A full copy of Faleomavaega’s letter which was copied to the Fono and the canneries is included below.
Dear Governor Togiola:
Today the House passed by a vote of 348 to 73, and the Senate passed by a vote of 80 to 14, the Iraq War Emergency Supplemental bill which the President is expected to sign into law. Caught up in this bill, which is a spending package that totals more than $120 billion, are minimum wage provisions which will affect American Samoa and CNMI. Enclosed for your information is a copy of the actual minimum wage language put forward by Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Senator Edward Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The language increases minimum wage by $0.50 per hour 60 days after enactment and every year thereafter until wages in American Samoa and CNMI are comparable to the States. Also included is language directing the Department of Labor to begin a study no later than 60 days after enactment to assess the impact of the wage increases, and project the impact of further wage increases on living standards and rates of employment in American Samoa and CNMI. The Department of Labor must issue its report to Congress no later than 8 months after the day of enactment rather than 32 months later as originally proposed.
This means that we will be able to determine more quickly the impact of minimum wage increases on our economy and possibly prevent further increases in year two rather than three or four years later. This language came about as a result of my consultations with Chairman Miller’s office and I am appreciative of his support of this language which is intended to provide us with a safety net.
As you are aware, in January of this year, I initially supported and fought to strengthen Special Industry Committees. StarKist, Chicken of the Sea, and Senators Inouye, Akaka, and Bingaman stood with me on this point. But, when the Emergency Supplemental was first introduced in late April, Chairman Miller chose to abolish Special Industry committees and proposed an increase of $0.50 per hour 60 days after enactment, annual increases or escalator clauses of $0.50 per hour every year thereafter, and a 32 month review by the Department of Labor to determine the impact of these changes on the economies of American Samoa and CNMI. This proposal, while supported by the House and Senate, was dead on arrival and vetoed by the President.
After the veto, as I informed you in my previous letter, I went back to the negotiating table and, as a matter of compromise and in fairness to our workers who have been underpaid for too long, I supported a one-time increase of $0.50 per hour. Later, at the request of Senator Inouye, I agreed to a compromise of $0.35 per hour. You also agreed as did our canneries. Unfortunately, Senator Inouye was unable to offer this compromise amendment because the White House and Leadership negotiated the terms of the new bill.
Despite the best efforts of Senator Inouye, Senator Bingaman, Senator Akaka, our canneries, their lobbyists, and myself, Chairman Miller and Senator Kennedy moved forward with language in today’s bill which includes escalator clauses, or mandatory annual increases. As I have repeatedly stated, I believe escalator clauses, or automatic, annual increases are too much, too soon, and this is why I appreciate that Chairman Miller, at my request, agreed to review the impact of this policy on the economies of American Samoa and CNMI in the next 8 months rather than 32 months as originally proposed.
If, after the US Department of Labor conducts its review, it appears that further increases beyond an initial increase of $0.50 per hour are detrimental to both island economies, Chairman Miller has assured me that we will then revisit the issue and consider adjustments if necessary. I also visited with Senator Inouye today and, as always, he will work to support our long-term interests.
In the interim, our cannery and government workers will be getting a wage increase of $0.50 per hour.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by saying, “Given that American Samoa’s economic future must also be considered, I want to continue to work with you and your office, our Fono, and our canneries as we move forward to find alternative ways to maintain a stable economy while providing our workers with a standard of living they deserve and should receive in the process.”