Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he and Governor Togiola are working together in response to Samoa Packing’s recent decision to close operations in American Samoa. In a meeting held today in the Congressman’s Washington office, the Governor and Congressman met with Chairman Miller’s Labor Policy Deputy Director, Jody Calemine, and Nik Pula of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs to discuss options for the Territory.
“The Governor and I have always opposed automatic increases in minimum wage, and in February of this year we wrote a joint letter to Chairman Miller, Senator Kennedy, Senator Inouye, Senator Bingaman, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Salazar requesting that Special Industry Committees be modified and reinstated so that minimum wage rates can be determined by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), not Congress, given the unique status of our Territory,” Faleomavaega said.
“Presently, the Senators and Chairman Miller prefer to wait until the GAO completes its study before considering reinstating Special Industry Committees but Chairman Miller has agreed to postpone the 2010 minimum wage increase by four months so as to give Congress time to act upon the recommendations of the GAO report which is due by April 2010. The fourth minimum wage increase is scheduled for May 2010 and would be postponed until September 2010, according to Chairman Miller’s proposal.”
“However, Governor Togiola and I have requested that the next increase be postponed for a year. Whether or not we will succeed with this request, I do not know, but we are hopeful that Secretary Salazar will weigh in with the Administration and Congress in supporting our request for the establishment of modified version of Special Industry Committees, and a slowdown in future minimum wage increases.”
“I also hope ASG will do everything it can at the local level to keep StarKist in American Samoa, particularly since the federal government has done its part to keep American Samoa’s tuna canneries afloat for the past 50-years. For the past two years, my office worked to obtain a $33 million federal income tax break for both canneries at a time when the United States is faced with an unprecedented financial crisis. Prior to this extension, I worked to make sure each cannery received over $5 million per year in federal tax breaks for almost 20 years, which equates to well over $200 million, not to mention the tax breaks they got for the 20 or so years preceding this.”
“I am also pleased that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has agreed to re-train our workers and provide them with stipend allowances for a time, on the condition that ASG proves their legal status and submits the necessary application. I am confident ASG will make this one of its top priorities.”
“While I have always believed that ASG and our Samoan workers should have benefited more from both canneries’ presence in our Territory, especially considering that the tuna canneries have spent the past 50-years exporting billions of dollars worth of canned tuna from American Samoa, we always knew that one day the canneries would go elsewhere because the canneries were never in American Samoa because they loved us. They were in American Samoa to make money. Now the entire global tuna industry is changing, the global economy is collapsing, and American Samoa is caught up in something bigger than itself.”
“But as we work together, I am certain, with God’s help, we will come through this stronger and better than we were before. I commend Governor Togiola for the work he is doing on behalf of our people and he has my full support as we move forward in responding to the challenges which, with your support and prayers, we will overcome,” Faleomavaega concluded.