Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is very disappointed in US Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne’s lack of support for American Samoa on the minimum wage issue given that the Department of Interior is the lead federal agency for issues affecting the insular areas.
On January 24, 2007, Faleomavaega wrote Secretary Kempthorne and requested that the Department of Interior (DOI) support Special Industry Committees for American Samoa and CNMI in the ongoing debate in Congress about whether federal minimum wage rates should be applied.
In his letter, Faleomavaega informed Secretary Kempthorne that he and Senator Inouye had sent a joint letter to Senators Kennedy and Enzi, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions requesting their support. Faleomavaega also let the Secretary know that Senators Akaka and Bingaman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources had done the same.
Faleomavaega also included the US Department of Labor’s most recent economic report as well as an analysis undertaken by OIA regarding the impact the tuna industry’s departure would have on American Samoa’s fragile, island economy.
“Despite having raised this very serious issue with Secretary Kempthorne, DOI has decided not to offer its support on the minimum wage issue and this is evidenced by its recent response to my office,” Faleomavaega said. “In a letter dated February 28, 2007, Deputy Assistant Secretary Cohen said he had been asked to respond on behalf of the Secretary. Regrettably, his response offered no support and only summarized the Special Industry process, a process of which I am well aware.”
“Mr. Cohen concluded his letter by saying, ‘I appreciate your having brought your concerns to the attention of the Secretary.’ In other words, Deputy Assistant Secretary’s letter was a non-response.”
“Given that Secretary Kempthorne and Deputy Assistant Secretary Cohen are political appointees, meaning that they must be true to the Republican party rather than faithful to the Territories, I am not at all surprised that they are unwilling to respond to or support American Samoa on the issue of minimum wage. The Republican party has fought us every step of the way on this issue but I believe the Democratic Majority will be with us.”
“I might also add that it took the Department of Interior over four years to lend its support to the extension of tax credits for our canneries. At the 12th hour, when the deal was already agreed to by Chairman Thomas, the Department of Interior decided to go on record and support 936 and 30A.”
“Notwithstanding DOI’s hesitation and lack of commitment during the 936 debate, our Republican friends, including Chairman Bill Thomas of the Ways and Means Committee crossed party lines and extended our tax credits. I am personally grateful to Chairman Thomas for having the moral courage to do the right thing regardless of politics. I am hopeful that in the future the Department of Interior will also be courageous enough to stand with the Territories it represents when they are faced with tough decisions,” Faleomavaega said.
The complete text of Faleomavaega’s letter to Secretary Kempthorne and Deputy Assistant Cohen’s response are posted with this press release.