|June 17, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|WASHINGTON, D.C.—FALEOMAVAEGA SUPPORTS AN INCREASE IN MINIMUM WAGE FOR CANNERY WORKERS AND ASG EMPLOYEES|
Faleomavaega announced that he supports an increase in minimum wage for
cannery workers and ASG employees.
“Although I am deeply disappointed that I am unable to attend our minimum wage hearings, I must be in Washington to attend a hearing which will affect the future of our tuna industry for generations to come. As I stated in a press release dated June 11, 2003, the International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on June 18, 2003 to discuss the Compacts of Free Association. The Compacts of Free Association are agreements that the U.S. has with the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Marshall Islands. These agreements have not yet been finalized but language has been included which would increase the amount of tuna these island nations could send to the U.S. exempt from duty.”
“For American Samoa, this matter is serious and I will not rest until the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the U.S. State Department are on record stating that the canned tuna provisions will be revised to reflect our past agreement with FSM and the Marshall Islands. I also will not rest until wages in American Samoa are increased and this is why I have submitted a statement to Special Industry Committee No. 25 to be considered and included as part of the official record,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“I have also released copies of my statement to the Samoa News, our local radio stations, and other media outlets. My statement is also posted on my government website and anyone wishing to obtain a copy may download it or contact my office in Washington or America Samoa.”
“While I cannot include the full text of my statement in this press release, I can state that I was hopeful that when Del Monte took over ownership of StarKist that more thoughtful consideration would be given to the needs of our cannery workers. In fact, it was my sincere hope that there would be a shift in thinking on the part of our tuna processors. I was hopeful that our processors would come to believe that employees are as important as stockholders and I am disappointed that this has not been the case.”
“I am especially disappointed that StarKist’s Vice President for Seafood Operations and Procurement began his minimum wage statement by saying that ‘one basic idea guides the actions of all major businesses. A business has an economic, legal, and moral responsibility to maximize the return it gives to its investors or shareholders.’ StarKist went on to say that ‘businesses are obligated to maximize their profits.’”
“As I have said before, I support business and the need for business to make a reasonable profit. But to paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt, I will not let calamity-howling executives with million dollar incomes tell me that wage increases will have a disastrous effect on the U.S. economy or that we must exploit labor in developing countries to remain competitive. Neither will I support the notion that businesses are to maximize their profits without a moral obligation to also increase the wages of our cannery workers,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“As Senator Borah from
Idaho said during the 1937 fair labor standards debate, ‘whether North
or South, East or West, there [is] a standard of…living, and we ought to
recognize that and fix a minimum wage upon that basis.’ Senator Borah
also said that he looked upon ‘a minimum wage such as will afford a decent
living as a part of a
“‘I would abolish a wage scale below a decent standard living just as I would abolish slavery,’” he said. “‘If it disturbed business, it would be the price we must pay for good citizens…. I take the position that a man who employs another must pay him sufficient to enable the one employed to live.’”
“Senator Pepper from Florida asked, ‘What if he cannot afford to pay it?’”
“Senator Borah responded,
and I quote, ‘If he cannot afford to pay it, then he
“Senator Ellender from Louisiana then asked, ‘Without exception?’”
“Senator Borah replied, ‘Yes without exception. If it cannot do so, let it close up…I am opposed to peon labor, whether it is employed by one man or another. I start with the proposition that the right to live is higher than the right to own a business.’”
“As I said two years ago in my statement before Special Industry Committee No. 24, I also believe that the right to live is higher than the right to own a business. Furthermore,” Faleomavaega said, “I believe a business has an economic, legal, and moral responsibility to pay its employees enough to enable them to live and I believe this should be the basic idea that guides the actions of all major businesses, including those of the tuna industry.”
“Quite frankly, it is an insult to our people for executives who are paid top dollar to recommend that there be no increase to the minimum wage and to suggest that their only obligation is to their investors or stockholders. If this is the basic idea that guides StarKist or Del Monte, so be it. But I believe that 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,” the Congressman said.
“Indeed, I do not believe one corporate executive at Del Monte, StarKist, or Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing would oppose minimum wage increases if their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons or daughters toiled day in and day out in tuna canneries here or abroad. If suppressed wages are not good enough for their families and low yields are unacceptable to their stockholders, why should wages of $3.26 and less per hour be sufficient for our cannery workers? Furthermore, why should low wages be acceptable for cannery workers anywhere? This is not the way the world should be and I will do everything I can to make sure this is not the way things will be in American Samoa,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“Nevertheless, I do not have a vote in these proceedings and neither do the people of American Samoa. The U.S. Department of Labor picks and chooses its Special Industry Committee and, for the most part, the outcome is determined before we testify. In some ways, it is unclear to me why the U.S. Department of Labor bothers to hold these hearings. If the Department of Labor was serious about minimum wage then it would be serious about conducting a study to determine the cost of living in American Samoa. If it was serious about minimum wage it would be serious about making the tuna industry declare its margin of profit. Simply put, until we know what the canneries are making we cannot determine what a fair wage is for our workers.”
“Having spent the past year and half fighting the Andean Trade agreement, I can tell you that I understand what our canneries are up against when it comes to competing against countries with low wage rates. I understand the realities of supply and demand. I understand that production will leave high cost locations when low cost alternatives exist. I also understand that these are the same words the U.S. tuna industry has been regurgitating for the past 47 years.”
“In 1956, as part of its lobbying effort to suppress wages in American Samoa and pay Samoan workers only 27 cents per hour, Van Camp (now Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing) said that ‘a minimum wage of $1 per hour, as required under present laws, is unrealistic, unwarranted, and unquestionably will have a deleterious effect upon the economic and social structure of the islands.’ Forty-seven years later,” Faleomavaega said, “neither Samoa Packing nor StarKist thinks any more or less of our cannery workers.”
“Nevertheless, I believe workers in American Samoa are the backbone of the U.S. tuna industry and I believe that men and women of conscience will agree with me that businesses are also obligated to act in the interest of its workers. After 47 years of working against us, I believe it is time for our canneries to work with us and I am pleased that the U.S. tuna industry has united in support of H.R. 1424 -- a bill I introduced in Congress to make permanent or extend the federal IRS section 936 tax credit to American Samoa for another ten years.”
“I am also pleased that our local Senate issued a Concurrent Resolution in support of H.R. 1424,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “However, I need to understand why StarKist has taken the position that favorable local and federal tax treatment makes little difference to our canneries. Since our tax incentives make little difference, I would suggest that a 10% duty on loins coming into this Territory will be a good source of revenue for our local government.”
“My point is you can’t have it both ways. Either favorable tax treatment benefits our canneries and frees up cash to increase minimum wages or it doesn’t. If StarKist is not in need of favorable local tax treatment and if 936 means so little, then by all means increase the minimum wage. Increase the minimum wage for our cannery workers and also increase the minimum wage for our government workers who make less than the federal standard of $5.15 per hour,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“The federal government has sent more than a billion dollars to American Samoa in the past seven years and I believe this is reason enough to support an increase in minimum wage for ASG workers. I also believe if we take another look at the tax breaks we are giving to foreign companies doing business in this Territory, we will be able to find the revenue we need to increase minimum wage for entry level workers in other industries.”
“Finally,” Faleomavaega said, “if the minimum wage cannot be increased, I believe our canneries should subsidize medical care at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center. In any other U.S. location, the tuna industry would be required to provide health care benefits for its employees. In American Samoa, however, ASG subsidizes the tuna industry by providing health care for sick or injured employees and their families. In itself, this is a savings of at least $5 million per year to our canneries and it is time for our canneries to return this money to LBJ and assume responsibility for the medical care of its employees.”
“It is also time for our canneries to increase pensions for our workers and I believe something needs to be said on and in behalf of Samoans who stand for 8 hours a day cleaning fish and after 20 years of service only get a pension of approximately $120 per month. This is not right and this is simply un-American.”
“For 47 years, the U.S. tuna industry has told us it would leave American Samoa if wages were increased. Forty-seven years later, both canneries are with us and only last year StarKist erected a statue and declared that American Samoa is the permanent home of Charlie the Tuna. Maybe I missed it but I did not see any fine print beneath the statue stating that Charlie the Tuna’s home is conditional on whether or not we raise the minimum wage. In fact, as I recall, StarKist’s Vice-President was emphatic in stating that StarKist had no intention of leaving American Samoa. However, he also said StarKist was not up for sale and only a few months later it was sold to Del Monte.”
“Given these nonsensical statements,” the Congressman said, “I have come to believe that the only thing we may know for certain is that our future with the industry is uncertain. But with the Andean Trade agreement behind us and the minimum wage hearings before us, I am reminded of a Samoan proverb--O le upega e fili i le po ae talatala i le ao-- which means that the net that became entangled at night will be disentangled in the morning. In other words, I am hopeful that when the night passes and the morning comes we will settle our differences and work together to protect American Samoa’s tuna industry.”
“To this end, I support business and the need for business to make a reasonable profit. To this end, I also support an increase in minimum wage for our cannery workers. I believe this is what fair trade demands and I am hopeful that this is what men and women of conscience will thoughtfully consider,” the Congressman concluded.
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