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StarKist Laying Off Hundreds Of Workers In Samoa

StarKist Co. has confirmed it is laying off about 350 workers from its tuna cannery in the U.S. territory of American Samoa over the next several months.

Mary Sestric, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh-based company, said Wednesday via e-mail that the layoffs include both salaried and hourly workers at StarKist Samoa, which has about 2,000 workers.

“While efforts are now in process to stimulate total economic growth for American Samoa in the near future, currently, excess global manufacturing capacity, annual increases in the minimum wage and constantly shifting cost pressures combine to put the American Samoan tuna industry at significant and immediate risk and prevent it from remaining globally competitive,” Sestric said.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono has said the federally mandated minimum wage increases are pushing the territory's other tuna cannery out of business.

Chicken of the Sea International plans to shut down its COS Samoa Packing plant at the end of September, laying off 2,172 workers.

The fish canning industry directly and indirectly accounts for nearly three-fifths of all economic activity in American Samoa, located about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.

In May, StarKist announced a new personnel policy that led to the elimination of about 390 positions at its American Samoa plant.

StarKist President and Chief Executive Officer Don Binotto told Eni H. Faleomavaega, the territory’s delegate to Congress, in a July 13th letter that the company “will be making additional work force reductions over the next several months to make our facility as competitive as possible.” But Binotto didn’t elaborate.

The letter was written to lend the company’s full support to Faleomavaega’s proposal to establish the American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative, which he and company jointly formulated.

The proposal focuses on the need to create an environment that helps the people of American Samoa while creating a sustainable tuna industry that can grow and compete in a global economy, Faleomavaega has said.

Solutions outlined in the ASPIRE Act will benefit “sellers and buyers of fish directly delivered to American Samoa, re-establishing the island as a hub for the tuna industry and, most importantly, reinvigorating American Samoa’s economy,” Binotto wrote.