Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that contrary to recent claims reported by Samoa News on June 8, 2009, Congress is prepared to delay the next scheduled minimum wage increase to give Congress time to act in response to the GAO study.
“The GAO report to determine the impact of past, present and future minimum wage increases on the economy of American Samoa and CNMI is due by April 2010. The next minimum wage increase is scheduled for May 2010. Chairman Miller and Senator Kennedy have agreed to postpone the May 2010 until September 30, 2010. This four month delay, they believe, would provide them with the time they need to respond to the findings of the GAO,” Faleomavaega said.
“Regrettably, the Governor recently reported that he met with staffers from Chairman Miller and Chairman Kennedy’s offices and stated that the two congressional members ‘are unwilling to consider our requests to delay or stop the mandated increases; they want the minimum wage to go to $7.25 in two years.”
“This is not the case. While the Governor did not make me aware of his schedule or meetings during his visit to Washington, and while it his certainly his prerogative to keep his schedule to himself, I hosted a meeting in my office to meet with him, Mr. Nik Pula of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs and Chairman Miller’s senior staff. Chairman Miller’s staff made no such statements then or since, and did not express an unwillingness to consider our requests.”
“Unbeknownst to me, the Governor also met with Senator Inouye, which I was not aware of, and with Senator Kennedy’s staff, which I was also not aware of. But Senator Kennedy’s staff has informed my office that they also made no such statements.”
“Both Senator Kennedy and Chairman Miller and their staffs remain fully committed to the delay of the next scheduled increase and are working closely with my office to see this through. Their offices, and my office, have asked Senator Inouye to add language to the supplemental appropriations bill in support of the delay, and we are waiting to hear from him if this will be possible.”
“Given the seriousness of the challenges before us, I am hopeful that only accurate information will be reported about this issue. I realize the Governor wants to convince our people that increases in minimum wage in American Samoa is the reason Samoa Packing is leaving. But, minimum wage is only one of many reasons. No matter if our people were paid $3.00 or $7.00 per hour, our canneries cannot compete against Thailand or Vietnam or PNG or other countries that pay their workers less than $0.60 cents per hour. Mathematically, it is impossible.”
“The world is also facing a global, economic crisis. General Motors (GM), once the backbone of the American economy, has filed for bankruptcy. So has Chrysler, Saab, Lehman Brothers, American Freedom Mortgage, Washington Mutual, Tweeter, Linens ‘n Things, Mervyns, Woolworths, and the list goes on.”
“And the U.S. tuna industry and American Samoa are not immune from what is happening. The tuna industry is drastically changing. StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee used to be American owned. Now, one is owned by Thailand, one by Korea, and the other by Canada. There is no more American tuna industry, which means ASG needs to make some basic, fundamental adjustments and offer local incentives that make the Territory a more attractive place for companies to invest.”
“As I have said before, the federal government has done, and continues to do, its part by providing our tuna canneries with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, and hopefully the Governor’s Taskforce can consider what ASG can do to complement the federal government’s efforts.”
“While that review is underway, I will continue to work at the federal level to make sure American Samoa comes through this global, economic crisis, and I will do everything I can to encourage StarKist to stay with us,” Faleomavaega concluded.