Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter dated March 31, 2008, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne says that he personally stands ready to work on minimum wage. Faleomavaega requested Secretary Kempthorne’s support in a letter dated January 24, 2007 when minimum wage legislation was first introduced in Congress and before rate increases became a matter of public law.
In order to protect the economies of American Samoa and CNMI, Faleomavaega also forwarded Secretary Kempthorne a copy of H.R. 5154, a bill Faleomavaega introduced to amend Public Law 110-28. H.R. 5154 is now being used as the basis of an amendment being offered in the Senate by Senators Inouye, Akaka, and Bingaman.
“I want to express my appreciation to Secretary Kempthorne for standing ready to work with us and for agreeing with our assessment that P.L. 110-28 must be amended. Secretary Kempthorne’s support is an important development, and I thank him for his letter.”
The complete text of Secretary Kempthorne’s letter to Faleomavaega is included below.
Dear Mr. Faleomavaega:
The health and vitality of the peoples and economies of our insular territories have been among my top priorities since becoming Secretary of the Interior. These islands, stretching from the Caribbean to the shadows of Asia, are filled with a rich diversity of cultures and peoples who are citizens and nationals of the United States of America.
It is for this reason that I write with regard to Public Law 110-28, which contains the minimum wage rate increases for American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The new laws will approximately double the minimum wage rates in these territories over the next six to seven years.
A new report by the Department of Labor suggests that the mandated increases are likely to present significant challenges for both the American Samoa and CNMI economies. It also provides evidence for the argument that imposing a series of minimum wage increases on American Samoa and CNMI will likely lead to significant and irreversible economic and financial harm.
For American Samoa, the study found there are concerns that the tuna canneries will close and that production will be shifted to foreign facilities where labor costs are significantly lower. With respect to the CNMI, the study states it is likely that the current economic decline may be made worse. Both Governor Fitial of CNMI and Governor Togiola of American Samoa expressed grave concern about the minimum wage last June when I visited their respective islands. The Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, and the three traditional district governors of American Samoa have all expressed to me their serious concerns about this issue during their visit to Washington, D.C., last year.
Earlier this year, the Interior Department testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the economic effects of raising the minimum wage in American Samoa and the CNMI. In that testimony, the Administration suggested that Congress give strong consideration to amending P.L. 110-28 in order to avoid increases in the minimum wage rates that may be projected to result in significant job losses and harm the economies of the two territories.
Secretary Kempthorne concluded his letter by stating, “This Department, and I personally, stand ready to work with the Congress to achieve its minimum wage objectives in a way that avoids significant economic and financial harm to American Samoa and the CNMI.”