Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is providing the people of American Samoa with an update regarding the high-level talks that took place earlier this week between StarKist, Dongwon, and ASG officials. The meeting was held at the Governor and Faleomavaega’s request in response to StarKist’s announcement that it would eliminate twenty full-time salaried positions, hourly employee pension benefits, seven paid holidays, paid vacation for hourly employees, and additional activities that benefit hourly workers effective January 1, 2009.
“I thank Mr. Kim Jae-Chul, Chairman and CEO of Dongwon, for coming to American Samoa and listening to our concerns,” Faleomavaega said. “Chairman Kim is the owner of a multi-billion dollar business conglomerate and recently purchased StarKist for some $363 million. Until now, he has only heard Del Monte’s side of the story when it comes to StarKist Samoa. As a result of our meeting on Tuesday, December 9, I believe he has a clearer understanding of the real issues facing our cannery workers.”
“First and foremost, I believe he fully understands that cutbacks are not coming as a result of minimum wage increases or the uncertainty of federal 30A tax credits, as StarKist alleged. In fact, Chairman Kim revealed in the meeting that figures have shown a 20% decrease in production due to a 20% drop in sales after Dongwon took over from Del Monte, a drop that Del Monte officials who are managing StarKist through an agreement with Dongwon attribute to marketing reasons.”
“Since our Samoan workers are not responsible for marketing or sales, my suggestion to Dongwon is to cut the jobs and benefits of those at StarKist headquarters in Pittsburgh who are responsible for bringing on these losses. But don’t cut the jobs and benefits of Samoan workers, and don’t hide behind minimum wage and 30A tax credits as an excuse for doing so,” Faleomavaega said. “As I stated in my letter to StarKist, the federal government does not owe StarKist or any other corporation federal tax breaks. Even so, I worked to get StarKist and Chicken of the Sea a tax incentive package worth over $33 million.”
“With $33 million worth of tax breaks for our canneries, I make no apologies for supporting an increase in minimum wage for our workers. I supported the first increase of 50 cents per hour for our workers, and when that increase showed no harmful effect on our cannery operations, I supported the second increase of 50 cents per hour. Because StarKist purposely and intentionally suppressed the wages of Samoan workers for some 50 years, I believe our cannery workers deserved this long over-due increase which has equated to only ten cents per hour over the past ten years, and only two pennies per hour over the past 50 years.”
“Like I said before, if our canneries had done right by our workers at a time when the company was profitable, the federal government would not have had to step in and increase wages for our Samoan workers. But neither cannery was willing to do the right thing and now both are faced with escalating minimum wage rates. While I stand prepared to work to eliminate mandated yearly increases in minimum wage, I will only do so if StarKist is willing to deal fairly with our people.”
“Fairness to me means that StarKist must not make Samoa suffer for Pittsburgh’s mistakes. Since the marketing and top management teams at StarKist Pittsburgh are responsible for the 20% loss in production and sales, then the marketing and management teams in Pittsburgh should be held responsible and have their jobs and benefits cut. But for StarKist’s President to suggest that our cannery workers in Samoa should pay for Pittsburgh’s mistakes is just plain wrong, and just another example on the part of StarKist to continue the policy of having Samoan workers carry the burden of its corporate mismanagement and poor marketing initiatives that have led to StarKist’s unprofitability.”
“I stand firmly on the conviction that StarKist should be more upfront with its business dealings rather than using scare tactics and penalties that are costing our people their jobs and livelihood. I also believe StarKist should take a hard look at the views expressed by Congressman George Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Senator Edward Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, in a letter dated March 14, 2008 to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, pointing out the failure of the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue a comprehensive and detailed assessment of the impact of the minimum wage increases on living standards and employment rates in both American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).”
“Given that StarKist has tried to use minimum wage as an excuse for cutting jobs in American Samoa, I provided Chairman Kim and everyone else at Tuesday’s meeting with a copy of this letter. As a matter of record, Congressman Miller and Senator Kennedy informed Secretary Chao that, in the case of American Samoa, the DOL had access to a long history of testimony from our canneries before the Special Industry Committees in which they stated that any increase in the minimum wage would result in a curtailment of employment. But their testimony was directly contradicted by the fact that the canneries have reported no discernible job losses in the wake of the July 2007 wage increase of 50 cents, the largest single increase in the history of American Samoa.”
“While I could not agree more with Governor Togiola’s statement on the importance of our relationship with the canneries, I continue to stand by our workers and believe cuts should begin at StarKist headquarters in Pittsburgh, not in American Samoa. It is my understanding that Chairman Kim will be in Pittsburgh next week, and I am committed to working with him and Governor Togiola to find a solution that keeps StarKist profitable and that is also respectful of our workers. As I said in our meeting, I want StarKist to make money and I also want our Samoan workers to earn decent wages. To this end, the Governor and Chairman Kim have my full support as we work together to resolve this situation in a way that is fair for everyone,” Faleomavaega concluded.