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Wage hike delay for territory awaits Obama’s okay

fili@samoanews.com

The U.S. House passed yesterday (early evening Washington D.C. time), federal legislation (Senate Bill # S. 2009), known as the Insular Areas Act of 2011, which includes a provision to delay minimum wage increases in American Samoa until 2015.

The two canneries, StarKist Samoa and Tri Marine International as well as the Chamber of Commerce have praised Congress and Congressman Faleomavaega for this work in implementing another delay in wage hikes.

The measure, which now goes to the U.S. President for consideration, would also delay a periodic U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the impact of prior wage increases on American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands from a 2-year to a 3-year, cycle. (CNMI is not included in the provision to delay the next wage hike)

Without this provision, the next wage hike, which was delayed in 2010 and 2011, would have gone into effect on Sept. 30 this year.

After the vote was  announced on the House floor, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni issued an official statement saying that S.2009 was “overwhelmingly” approved by a vote of 378 to 11. The minimum wage provision in the bill was worked out in advance with Faleomavaega’s office as well as the Senate HELP Committee, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“I cannot thank my colleagues enough for standing with me... because I know that passage of this bill was only possible... due to their support, especially since S. 2009 was placed on the suspension calendar and a recorded vote was requested,” Faleomavaega said in a news release.

“When a bill is placed on suspension calendar, it can pass by voice vote.  But if a Member calls for a recorded vote, then the bill must pass by 2/3 majority, or else it fails. This is what happened today. A recorded vote was called for and thankfully the bill passed by an overwhelming majority,” said Faleomavaega, who addressed the House floor during debate on the bill.

He thanked his colleagues for their support and also thanked committee and leadership staff for working in close association with his office on provisions which will benefit American Samoa “for years to come.”

 “However, while I thank my colleagues for their support and urged them to vote in favor of S. 2009, I take no happiness in the successful passage of this bill because I still stand for fair wages for American Samoa’s workers,” he said in his news release. “So between now and 2015, it will be up to ASG and our corporate partners, including StarKist and Tri-Marine, to find new ways of succeeding without further compromising the wages of our fish cleaners because I cannot promise that I will support anymore delays after this.”

“American Samoa’s fish cleaners have been the backbone of the U.S. tuna and fishing processing industries, and I salute them for stabilizing the Territory’s economy. With heart-felt gratitude for the sacrifices they have made on our behalf, I noted their service in the Congressional Record for historical purposes,” he said.

Asked for reaction to passage of the bill, StarKist Co., spokesperson Mary Sestric provided the same statement that was sent to the news media on Monday from president and chief executive officer In-Soo Cho, as the bill was prepared for floor debate.

In that statement Cho expressed his sincere gratitude to Faleomavaega for his diligent work regarding minimum wage.

Tri Marine International, whose local operations include a proposed cannery at the old COS Samoa Packing plant, is pleased with passage of the bill.

“This action, once signed into law, removes a potential roadblock to our development plans which are underway and projected to extend into 2013,” Tri Marine vice president of production, Dan Sullivan told Samoa News yesterday.  “While we hoped for and expected this outcome, it is certainly welcome news that it was achieved.”

“We believe it is extremely important for the American Samoa economy and the tuna industry based in American Samoa that not only this legislation be signed into law but it is also important that consideration of any future increases in the minimum wage beyond 2015 ensure there will not be a significant negative impact on jobs and the economy. This is very good news for American Samoa,” he said responding to Samoa News inquiries for comments.

Chamber of Commerce chairman David Robinson told Samoa News yesterday that the business association is pleased that “Congress has acted in a positive way by voting for a delay in the application of further minimum wage increases till 2015.”

“Congress is to be thanked for preventing further economic calamity in American Samoa and preventing continual increases to the minimum wage which would have lead to additional layoffs in our fragile economy,” he said responding to inquires for comments.

The Chamber would like to thank Faleomavaega, Gov. Togiola Tulafono, all government officials and the US Congress who have worked diligently to achieve this delay.

“Thousands of our workers have lost their jobs and experienced reduced benefits since the minimum wage increases were announced in 2007,” said Robinson. “Unemployment remains high as there has been limited new investment to create job opportunities, the economy remains depressed and efforts to attract new investment have been unsuccessful, in part, caused by the spectre of further minimum wage increases that would have been unrelated to market conditions.”

“The Chamber is an advocate for fair wages for all classes of employment in all business sectors and it supports reasonable increases in wages as and when economic conditions can support them. Perhaps we should consider reverting to the previous system of bi-annual wage reviews or maybe annual reviews to determine appropriate levels of wages so that all our workers are fairly compensated,” he said.

Additionally, the “American Samoa economy needs to be diversified and strengthened and hopefully the actions by Congress will make progress in this direction a little easier.”

Faleomavaega yesterday also thanked the people of American Samoa, the Fono, and local leaders for the prayers and the support they have offered. He especially commended U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Lisa Murkowsky “for their leadership in getting S. 2009 passed by the Senate” last year.

During Senate debate of the bill last December, Bingaman told his colleagues that in recent years, “trade globalization and rising costs have contributed to a severe economic down turn” in American Samoa. He cited the most recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report which states that one of the two tuna canneries closed in 2009 and the other cannery significantly reduced operations.

“Employment in this key sector fell by 55 percent from 2009 to 2010,”  said Bingaman referring to cannery operations.

Click attachment below to download in pdf form full version of the Congressman’s news release, which includes background on wages for the territory as well as the tuna industry.

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MinWage_Faleomavaega.7.17.12.pdf75.68 KB


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