Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he met with officials from the US Department of Labor (DOL) including representatives from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Dr. Ronald Bird, Chief Economist from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, to discuss the new federal minimum wage law which requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to undertake a study to determine the impact of increases on the economies of American Samoa and CNMI.
“Recently,” Faleomavaega said, “the Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation which increases minimum wage for workers throughout the United States. As a result of this new law, minimum wage will be increased in American Samoa and CNMI by $0.50 per hour beginning yesterday for those employees making less than the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.”
“The law also includes a provision which directs the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics to undertake a study to determine the impact these increases might have on our economies. Eight months from now the Bureau of Labor Statistics must submit its findings about American Samoa and CNMI to Congress.”
“The findings of this study will be critical in determining whether or not we will be able to end escalator clauses which now require that minimum wages be increased annually by $0.50 per hour. As I have said before, I support a one-time increase of $0.50 per hour for our lowest-income workers and I am happy that after all these years, as of yesterday, they finally got an increase they deserve.”
“But I do not support escalator clauses, or annual increases, forced upon us without the benefit of knowing whether or not our economy can sustain the increase. This is why I believe we must be assist the Bureau of Labor Statistics in gathering the information it needs to determine what impact further increases might have on our economy. Given that our economy hinges on two US tuna canneries, common sense would dictate that we cannot afford further increases.”
“But the burden is upon us to prove our point. In the very near future, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics undertakes a first of its kind study to really analyze our economy and make projections for the future, the Bureau will be requesting information from ASG, our canneries, and our local Chamber of Commerce. Without this information, the Bureau will not be able to do its job and, therefore, it is my sincere hope that each of these entities will fully support the Bureau’s efforts by working in a timely and cooperative manner.”
“To assist the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I also informed Dr. Bird that I would request additional support from US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. I believe a partnership between the Interior Department and the Department of Labor could be helpful to this process and I will be sending a letter tomorrow notifying Secretary Kempthorne that the Bureau is prepared to also train ASG and CNMI officials in how to collect the necessary data needed to make determinations about our economies.”
“Once information has been gathered and if it is determined that American Samoa’s economy cannot afford further increases in minimum wage beyond this year’s increase, then I will present our case to Congress and will spare no effort in making sure ASG, our canneries, local businesses, and their employees are protected for the long-term,” Faleomavaega concluded.