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COS Samoa Reduces Hourly Employee Benefits

Some reduction in benefits for COS Samoa Packing workers go into effect today, according to a company announcement dated Feb. 13 sent to its management team.

A copy of the brief announcement was attached to a Feb. 24 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The letter was signed by Gov. Togiola Tulafono, CNMI Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Congressman Faleomavaega Eni requesting the Obama Administration’s support to re-establish a federal committee to determine the minimum wages for American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The territorial leaders wanted to make sure Salazar is fully aware of the actions taken so far by the two canneries to offset the mandatory annual 50 cent per hour minimum wage hike. (Also in the letter, the territorial leaders informed Salazar of what StarKist Samoa has done so far in reducing staff and benefits).

Signed by company official Kevin McClain, the Samoa Packing announcement says the change in benefits affects hourly employees.

“The retirement plan for COS Samoa Packing Production Employees has been frozen effective March 31, 2009,” said McClain and noted this was covered in a handout also dated Feb. 13.

“The vacation pay for hourly production workers will stop effective Feb. 28th, 2009,” said McClain. “There should be no vacation pay accrued as yet, because the accrual starts after 500 hours in any year and the holiday pay from last year should have been paid out already.”

Additionally, there “will be no more paid holiday pay for the hourly workers effective Feb. 28th, 2009. Any holiday pay accrued will have been paid by then.”

“We are very sorry to have to do this but competitive pressures force us to make these difficult decisions,” said McClain in the announcement. “As we all know the general economic situation in the world is very difficult as this time, and we must remain competitive to stay in business.”

Samoa Packing’s parent company, San Diego-based Chicken of the Sea International (COSI) didn’t reply to Samoa News inquiries two weeks ago for a specific explanation of the benefits being reduced and which employees are affected.

The only statement provided to Samoa News at the time stated: “During this global economic crisis, companies near and far are facing significant challenges to remain viable and competitive, and Chicken of the Sea International and Samoa Packing are no exception.”

“Cost-cutting measures are necessary to ensure stability by offsetting rapidly escalating costs, and the companies have implemented employee benefit reductions to remain viable and able to compete in a challenging global economy,” it said.

Samoa News did learn from a supervisor the measures affected hourly workers but no other specific details were available until now.