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Obama Might Reverse Samoa Minimum Wage Hike - To Keep Cannery

A minimum wage petition that began to circulate in the territory yesterday calls on U.S. President Barack Obama to reverse the mandated minimum wage increases imposed on American Samoa, because it’s “causing undue economic turmoil and hardship in the territory.”

Additionally, the petition asks Obama for “the provisions pertaining to American Samoa in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-28) be repealed” and for the process of setting minimum wage rates in the territory be returned to Special Industry Committees.

An initiative of Gov. Togiola Tulafono, the petition drive is spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce with support of the Commerce Department, local fishing association, the Office of Samoan Affairs and others.

While organizers are targeting a minimum of 20,000 signatures, Chamber president David Robinson told Samoa News yesterday that “we are targeting as many people as possible to get our message across to President Obama and the White House.”

“It’s very important that our claims of hardship due to the mandated minimum wage is heard clearly by the White House,” said Robinson. “Our overtures to Congress and others have met with no positive reaction. No one in Congress seems to be very interested in our call and the governor felt — and we agree — this new initiative should be taken directly to Obama, who may be able to address our economic plight.”

According to the petition, which is both in English and Samoan, passage of the minimum wage in 2007 “prompted immediate public outcry with predictions of the total collapse of the economy in American Samoa.”

“It was feared that the tuna canneries, the basis of the economy, would leave or downsize — thus leaving other businesses and government unable to maintain their present employment levels. These predictions have now come to pass,” it says.

Obama was informed that “one cannery is in the process of leaving this fall and the second has already downsized by about 20%” adding that this “single industry meltdown has caused havoc with the business community and many businesses are facing possible downsizing or closure.”

“The [territorial] Government is facing severe financial shortfalls as tax revenues decrease and it is predicted that as many as 7,500 people will lose their jobs during this year,” according to the petition.

Obama is also made aware that the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a study to determine the economic impact of wage increases, but this study was rejected by members of Congress.  Instead of waiting for better information, Congress chose to act without further necessary information.

“This petition seeks to reverse economic hardships resulting from these unrealistic wage increases,” it says. “There is presently a rush to find ways to replace the canneries with new industry but American Samoa is not an attractive venue for international business, due in great part to the high wages demanded by federal law. The federally imposed minimum wage is several times higher than enforced on neighboring islands.”

“Signatories to this petition maintain that it is inappropriate and unrealistic to apply US mainland wage standards to American Samoa’s small, isolated economy” and petitioned Obama to take action to:

• Reverse the increases mandated by PL-110-28 leaving only the initial $0.50 per hour increase.

• Reinstate Special Industry Committee process for determining minimum wages in the territory.

Former House member, Pulu Ae Ae Jr. was seen at the Fono yesterday circulating the petition, which was signed by several individuals.

So far, the petition can be signed at the DOC at the A.P. Lutali Executive Building in Utulei, Panamex Pacific in Nu’uuli and 93KHJ at the Pago Plaza. Other locations are being secured for petition signers.