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Eni clarifies Obama’s EO on minimum wages

A key issue affecting American Samoa in U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address before congressional members Tuesday night was his call for an increase in the federal minimum wage.


Obama’s address was carried live locally on KVZK-TV and Bluesky Moana TV. A transcript of the President’s speech was also made available to news organizations and Samoa News has a copy, which is also posted on the White House website.


Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, in a news release on Wednesday, noted the President’s address laid out several key proposals centered on economic opportunity, such as strengthening domestic manufacturing and pursuing a steadfast commitment to American energy.


Faleomavaega also responded to the minimum wage issue pertaining to American Samoa.


Obama told Congress that he will issue in the coming weeks an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees “a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour — because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”


In his press statement released by his Washington D.C. office, Faleomavaega pointed out any federal contractor working in any state or territory would be bound by this executive order, but most workers employed by federal government contractors already earn more.


Additionally, federal service and construction contracts are already governed by the Service Contracting Act and the Davis-Bacon Act which require that workers “be paid at least the prevailing wages in any given area”.


“I want to be clear that this executive order does not apply to private businesses or local governments,” Faleomavaega said. “It only applies to federal contractors, who are defined as companies or persons that enter into contracts with the federal government and are compensated with funds appropriated by Congress.”


Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Honeywell are some examples of federal contractors, he added.


In his address, Obama said to reach millions more with an increase in wages, Congress needs to get on board, adding the federal minimum wage today is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood to address Congress. (Current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.)


Obama said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and U.S. Rep. George Miller have sponsored a bill to hike the minimum wage to $10.10, and its purpose is to help families. “It will give... customers more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise,” he said.


Faleomavaega said that while this bill is pending in Congress to hike the minimum wage by 2015, his office continues to be in discussions with Miller (ranking Democrat from California on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce) about American Samoa’s single-industry economy and the upcoming U.S. Government Accountability Office report that is due out this year.


“Based on the GAO’s findings, we will have a better sense of where American Samoa will fit in this landscape,” Faleomavaega added.


The GAO report is due in Congress in April this year and it will look at the impact of the minimum wage increases since 2007. American Samoa’s next minimum wage hike of 50 cents per hour is due to take effect on Sept. 30, 2015.


Rep. Miller along with Senator Harkin (who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) publicly announced in March last year the introduction of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (H.R. 1010) which proposes to raise the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, in three steps of 95 cents — and then provide for automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living, according to a joint news release sent out by the pair at that time.


A provision of the bill would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers — which currently stands at just $2.13 an hour — for the first time in more than 20 years, to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.


Through his news release, Faleomavaega says he is pleased Obama “reaffirmed his commitment to the Asia Pacific region which I have always believed must include the U.S. Territories and our Pacific Island neighbors.”


He also pointed out Obama challenged Congress to make this year a year of action — to step up to the challenge and work with the President to preserve the American Dream and make economic opportunity a reality for all Americans.


However, Faleomavaega says this challenge will not be easy and it will not come without compromise. He said he looks forward to working with Obama and his colleagues in Congress on “these crucial issues, and especially on the issue of minimum wage which we must settle in a way that is fair for our workers and our industries.”