Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that, in response to the House of Representatives most recent action regarding the Emergency Supplemental in which the same language has been included to increase minimum wage immediately by $0.50 cents per hour 60 days after enactment of the legislation and every year thereafter until minimum wages in American Samoa and CNMI reach that of the United States, he has requested Senator Inouye to offer a compromise amendment in the Senate which would provide workers in CNMI and American Samoa with a one-time increase of $0.50 per hour; empower the US Department of Labor to determine increases, if any, thereafter, and abolish Special Industry Committees. In a letter dated May 11, 2007, Faleomavaega has also sought the support of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Akaka, and Senator Bingaman.
“As a matter of record,” Faleomavaega said, “in January and February of this year, I forwarded information to Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and to Chairman Edward Kennedy of the HELP Committee clearly showing that American Samoa’s private sector economy is more than 80% dependent either directly or indirectly on two United States tuna canneries which employ more than 5,150 people of 74 percent of the workforce. I also stated that a decrease in production or departure of one or both of the two canneries in American Samoa could devastate the local economy resulting in massive layoffs and insurmountable financial difficulties. Given the seriousness of the situation, I requested their support in strengthening Special Industry Committees rather than applying federal minimums to American Samoa and CNMI.”
“On March 12, 2007, I also forwarded Chairman Miller information he needed to pacify his concerns about Republican reaction to American Samoa and CNMI being treated differently. For his purposes, I enclosed a press statement from the US Department of the Interior indicating the Administration’s support for exempting American Samoa and CNMI from federal minimums. I also worked to build a coalition of support in the House and Senate. Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka, Senator Bingaman, Senator Byrd, and Chairman Obey each agreed to do whatever they could to assist.”
“After this effort, I was surprised by the language included in the first Emergency Supplemental which abolished Special Industry Committees and included mandatory escalator clauses. Given this was the best Chairman Miller said he could do at the time, I went on record and publicly supported the initial increase of $0.50 per hour which he suggested and I continue to stand with the Chairman on this point.”
“Like him, I do not believe our canneries have done right by the workers of American Samoa and, at a minimum, I believe our workers deserve an immediate increase of $0.50 per hour. In fact, I have prepared a response to Del Monte’s corporate CEO whose Vice President recently threatened to place production and hires on hold in reaction to the Emergency Supplemental. I believe Del Monte’s threats are unacceptable and I believe after ten years of no increases our workers deserve an immediate raise.”
“In principal, I also support annual increases. But, I do not believe annual increases should be arbitrarily dictated by Congress. For this reason, I have asked Chairman Miller to consider language which would provide workers in CNMI and American Samoa with a one-time increase of $0.50 per hour, empower the US Department of Labor to determine increases, if any, thereafter, and abolish Special Industry Committees. For Chairman Miller to be able to consider this, language would need to be introduced in the Senate. However, I still do not know whether or not Chairman Miller will support this position, or whether Senator Inouye will offer the amendment.”
“What I do know is that StarKist and Chicken of the Sea must be more forthcoming with Congress about its profit margins if they are serious about Congress stepping in to strike escalator clauses. If the canneries are unable to provide Congress with the information it needs to put an end to escalating increases that could be harmful to our economy, and if Congress pursues it current course as a result of the canneries’ failure to be forthcoming, then I will do everything I can to seek compensation from Congress for any detrimental effect mandated escalator clauses may have on American Samoa’s economy.”
“However, I am hopeful that we do not reach this point and this is why I am asking key Members of the House and Senate to support a compromise that is in the best interest of American Samoa and CNMI,” Faleomavaega concluded.