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Starkist hopeful Congress will delay wage increase

StarKist Company is able to increase the workforce at StarKist Samoa plant due to a  “greater degree of confidence” in the cost structure of manufacturing in American Samoa and StarKist is hopeful that the U.S. Congress will delay the next minimum wage hike in the territory, said Mary Sestric, the company’s spokesperson, based at headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono revealed on his weekend radio program that StarKist Samoa has increased production and has hiked its workforce by 900 — from 1,200 two years ago to 2,100 as of more than a week ago.

“...we have about 2000 [workforce] in our American Samoa plant currently — a headcount we have been able to sustain due to our current greater degree of confidence in the underlying cost structure of manufacturing in the territory,” Sestric said yesterday via e-mail responding to Samoa News questions after the governor made the announcement on his weekend radio program.

“As we come closer to the next automatic wage increase, however, the global cost structure remains the same but our ability to make business plans and to keep our cost structure as lean as possible is compromised,” she said.

“We are therefore hopeful that Congress will again delay the next scheduled increase in order to place American Samoa and its businesses in a globally competitive position, and a more stable position to plan for the future,” she added.

The next minimum wage hike is scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 30 this year and Congressman Faleomavaega Eni is working with his Congressional colleagues to delay the  hike. Last December, the U.S. Senate passed federal legislation (S. 2009), which includes a provision to delay the next wage hike until 2015. 

The measure, also known as the Insular Area Act, remains pending in the U.S. House for consideration and approval.

During a news conference last December at the StarKist Samoa facility, StarKist Co. president and chief executive officer In-Soo Cho was asked for his reaction if the wage hike does take effect this year, and he said, “I have great confidence that Congress will understand the requirement that we need to remain competitive in the worldwide tuna processing industry.”

He said the company expects the delay to take place; however, if it goes on as scheduled, that will put StarKist in a “tough situation”.

Current minimum wage for fish canning and processing, and can manufacturing is $4.76 per hour and come Sept. 30, 2012 — if efforts fail to delay the next hike — the new minimum wage will be $5.26 per hour.