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Samoa Considering To Delay Next Minimum Wage Hike To Keep StarKist

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni says that contrary to recent claims reported by Samoa News “Congress is prepared to delay the next scheduled minimum wage increase” to give Congress time to act in response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The claim was based on minutes of Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s cabinet meeting last week where he told directors American Samoa is not getting support from the U.S. Congress to the territory’s request to delay the next wage increase set for May 2010.

He said Congress believes American Samoa wants to keep wages low and therefore is “unwilling to give serious attention to our unique situation in the island.”

While in Washington D.C. last month the governor met with staffers from the offices of U.S. Rep. George Miller and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. (Kennedy and Miller chair committees with oversight on labor and wage issues).

Togiola told directors the staffers of the two congressional members “are unwilling to consider our requests to delay or stop the mandated increases; they want the minimum wage to go to $7.25 in two years.”

Faleomavaega said in a statement last week the GAO report is to determine the impact of past, present and future minimum wage increases on the economy of American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the first report is due prior to April 15, 2010.

The next wage hike is set for May 2010 and Faleomavaega said Miller and Kennedy “have agreed to postpone the May 2010 increase until September 30, 2010.”

“This four month delay, they believe, would provide them with the time they need to respond to the findings of the GAO,” Faleomavaega said.

“Regrettably, the Governor recently reported that he met with staffers from Chairman Miller and Chairman Kennedy’s offices and stated the two congressional members ‘are unwilling to consider our requests to delay or stop the mandated increases; they want the minimum wage to go to $7.25 in two years.”

“This is not the case.  While the Governor did not make me aware of his schedule or meetings during his visit to Washington, and while it certainly is his prerogative to keep his schedule to himself, I hosted a meeting in my office to meet with him, Mr. Nikolao Pula of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs and Chairman Miller’s senior staff,” said Faleomavaega. “Chairman Miller’s staff made no such statements then or since, and did not express an unwillingness to consider our requests.”

“Unbeknownst to me, the Governor also met with Senator [Daniel] Inouye, which I was not aware of, and with Senator Kennedy’s staff, which I was also not aware of,” he said. “But Senator Kennedy’s staff has informed my office that they also made no such statements.”

Speaking on his weekend radio program, Togiola said he met with Inouye in Washington D.C. and while the Hawai’i senator was concerned with American Samoa’s situation, Inouye still had to deal with other congressional colleagues in these matters.

Faleomavaega said both Kennedy and Miller and their staffs “remain fully committed to the delay of the next scheduled increase and are working closely with my office to see this through.”

“Their offices, and my office, have asked Senator Inouye to add language to the supplemental appropriations bill in support of the delay, and we are waiting to hear from him if this will be possible,” Faleomavaega explained.

“Given the seriousness of the challenges before us, I am hopeful that only accurate information will be reported about this issue,” the congressman said.

“The world is also facing a global, economic crisis,” said Faleomavaega and noted some of the major world companies who have filed for bankruptcy such as General Motors, Chrysler, Saab, Lehman Brothers, American Freedom Mortgage and Washington Mutual.

“And the U.S. tuna industry and American Samoa are not immune from what is happening. The tuna industry is drastically changing,” he said. “StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee used to be American owned. Now, one is owned by Thailand, one by Korea, and the other by Canada.”

“There is no more American tuna industry, which means ASG needs to make some basic, fundamental adjustments and offer local incentives that make the Territory a more attractive place for companies to invest,” the congressman explained.

“As I have said before, the federal government has done, and continues to do its part by providing our tuna canneries with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, and hopefully the Governor’s Taskforce can consider what ASG can do to complement the federal government’s efforts.”

“While that review is underway, I will continue to work at the federal level to make sure American Samoa comes through this global, economic crisis, and I will do everything I can to encourage StarKist to stay with us,” he added.