Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has responded to Del Monte’s threats to place production on hold, return to loin usage or move StarKist elsewhere. Del Monte owns StarKist and, on May 1, 2007, Del Monte’s Vice President, Nils Lommerin, wrote to Faleomavaega and threatened action in response to minimum wage legislation pending before Congress. Mr. Lommerin copied his letter to Governor Togiola and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Faleomavaega responded by writing to Del Monte’s President and CEO, Mr. Richard Wolford. Faleomavaega copied his letter to Speaker Pelosi, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Fono. The full text of Faleomavaega’s letter is included below.
Dear Mr. Wolford:
I am writing in response to your Executive Vice President’s letter (attached) of May 1, 2007 in which he implies that I have lied or misled Del Monte regarding my position about increasing the minimum wage for tuna cannery workers in American Samoa.
For your information, my position regarding minimum wage is a matter of public record. For the past 18 years, I have fought for increasing the wages of our cannery workers because for too many years Star Kist and Chicken of the Sea have purposely suppressed the wages of workers in American Samoa while increasing the wages of its corporate CEOs.
Before every Special Industry Committee held, Star Kist and Chicken of the Sea have testified that tuna is a labor-intensive, global commodity and follows international wages. Your Vice-President reiterated this position in his recent letter to me. While I can appreciate, as he states, that “wages in Samoa are currently almost five times higher than the international wage competitor canners pay to process and clean tuna fish and that enacting even a $.05 per hour increase in the minimum wage in American Samoa would result in a base wage that is almost six times higher,” I do not support his assumption that increased wages will lead to job loss.
If and when StarKist decides to cut 200 cannery jobs or return to loin usage or move production elsewhere, as your Vice President has threatened, I will make it crystal clear to our cannery workers, the people of American Samoa, and the US Congress that your intention to harm our people has nothing to do with the issue of minimum wage but has everything to do with corporate greed. As I have said before, if Del Monte and Chicken of the Sea are truly concerned about the wage rates of their cannery workers, then they would be equally troubled by the outrageous salaries of their corporate executives.
For example, in 2004, it was reported that in your capacity as CEO of Del Monte you were paid $1.7 million in salary, bonuses, and other compensations. With stock options included, you earned almost $2.65 million, or over 400 times more per year than the average cannery worker in American Samoa. This said, can anyone really believe that an increase in minimum wage is going to hurt StarKist’s ability to maximize its profits?
For the past 40 years, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea have maximized their profits off the backs of hard-working Samoans. You have exported tens of billions of dollars worth of canned tuna to the United States while our cannery workers have labored for measly wages that after 40 years barely begin at $3.20 per hour. While telling us you cannot afford to pay a penny more, you pay thousands and thousands of Del Monte employees working in the US on average $7.25 per hour. Where is your sense of right and wrong? Have you no conscience?
Despite the hypocrisy of Del Monte’s arguments as put forward by your Vice President of Operations, I want to set the record straight about where I stand regarding the minimum wage language included in the Emergency Supplemental Bill. Before implying that my staff or I misled you or your associates, your Vice President should be informed that mandated escalator clauses were introduced by Chairman George Miller after consultations with Members of the Conference Committee and after numerous discussions with your lobbyists and executives, and upon review of the information provided by both canneries regarding your financial standings. Chairman Miller also put forward the idea of an immediate $0.50 increase and it is my understanding that he arrived at this figure by applying the same 14% rate increase as is being applied nationally.
I was made aware of Chairman Miller’s intent at the same time every other Member of the House and Senate, outside of the conferees, was informed which was minutes before the legislation went to the Floor under a closed rule meaning no amendments could be offered. Knowing this was not the language I agreed to, Chairman Miller’s office informed mine that this is the best compromise he can come up with at this time. As I stated in my press release, given that this is the best Chairman Miller can come up with at this time, I support a one-time $0.50 increase. However, I did not and do not support mandated escalator clauses.
In fact, I am continuing to fight on your behalf to end escalator clauses. I have met and continue to meet with Susan Jackson and Charles Hansen who have represented your interests well. Again, it is my understanding that neither they nor any Member of the House or Senate outside the conferees were privy to Chairman Miller’s intent prior to his conference language being introduced. While I firmly believe Chairman Miller’s heart is in the right place, I am hopeful that he will work with us to find a compromise that you can tolerate which will also be fair to some 5,000 workers whose livelihood depends on the outcome of these negotiations. I have reached out to key Senators to assist in this effort and a copy of my letter to Senator Inouye is enclosed.
Even so, it is incumbent upon both canneries to provide Congress with accurate information to defend your position that you cannot afford escalator clauses or a one-time minimum wage increase of $0.50 per hour. Given that neither cannery has provided our workers with any significant increase for the past ten years, I believe you have a hard sell to make on both points.
According to my calculations, you have approximately 3,000 employees and an increase of $0.50 per hour equates to about a $3,000,000 increase per year for StarKist and Chicken of the Sea. Considering that you do not pay health care benefits to our cannery workers which in itself is un-American, and also given that after 20 years of dedicated service you only pay out $160 a month in pensions to Samoan men and women who stand on their feet and clean fish for 8 hours a day, I believe your wisest course of action is to join with me in supporting a one-time increase of $0.50 per hour.
As this matter proceeds, I also believe it would behoove Del Monte to reflect on how it chooses to interact with Congress. Throughout the minimum wage debate, Del Monte has chosen to remain silent while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been unfairly attacked by Republicans who suggested that she received campaign dollars from you in exchange for lower minimum wages in American Samoa. As you know, neither Speaker Pelosi nor I have ever received or accepted one penny from Del Monte or Star Kist and a respectable company would have gone on record and made this known.
Also, a company sincerely interested in working with Congress would not place pouch production on hold in response to a minimum wage bill that has not become law. In his letter to me, your Vice President states that in response to Chairman Miller’s actions “pouch production investment will now be placed on hold…and the addition of 204 jobs, slated to begin in July, is now in jeopardy.” Given that you are now enjoying a two-year extension of tax credits worth $20 million thanks to the support of the U.S. Congress, I am hopeful that Del Monte will direct its Vice President to tone down his rhetoric.
To date, Chairman Charles Rangel of the House Committee on Ways and Means is prepared to support a bill I introduced to extend your tax credits for an additional ten years. However, I cannot in good conscience ask him to support a bill that would provide our canneries $100 million in benefits over a ten-year period when, according to your own Vice President, there seems to be no real commitment on Del Monte’s part to remain and invest in American Samoa, or to support a minimum wage increase of any kind.
To paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt, I will not let calamity-howling executives with million dollar incomes to tell me that wage increases will have a disastrous effect on our economy or that we must exploit labor in developing countries to remain competitive. Nor will I accept your premise that businesses are to maximize their profits with no thought or moral obligation to also increase the wages of our cannery workers.
If you will recall, StarKist submitted testimony before Special Industry Committees in 2003 and 2005 stating that “one basic idea guides the actions of all major businesses [and that is] a business has an economic, legal, and moral responsibility to maximize the return it gives to its investors or shareholders.” I believe differently. I believe higher laws should guide our actions and that we have a moral responsibility to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by saying, “If you believe the same, then the door to my office is open and I am available to work with you. By the same token, if Del Monte would prefer to have Governor Togiola represent its corporate interests in the US Congress as has been implied by your Vice-President, I will focus my attention solely on the welfare and needs of our cannery workers and will fight to make sure they get every penny they deserve without thought of compromise.”