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USDOL reveals probe of fair labor standards compliance

Because there is an open federal investigation on fair labor law compliance within the American Samoa Government, which includes the Customs Office, the U.S. Department of Labor has declined to comment on the recent revelation that Customs Officers are again not getting paid their overtime.


The latest development in what is shaping up as a never ending saga regarding overtime for Customs, prompted Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao, chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to call a hearing tomorrow to get answers and explanations from two ASG directors.


As reported by Samoa News last Friday, close to thirty Customs officers signed off on a petition to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, Sam Tinae about Customs overtime and compensatory time. 


The Customs officers claim they have no idea how their hours are being calculated and what is being done with their overtime hours, and they want a straightforward answer as to the status of their overtime hours.


Samoa News asked San Francisco based USDOL Region 9 spokesperson Jose Carnevali for comments on this latest revelation and whether the federal agency will conduct an investigation into the new claims by Customs officers.


“We have an open investigation regarding Fair Labor Standards Act compliance within the American Samoa Government,” Carnevali said via e-mail last Friday afternoon. “This includes a review of the overtime pay practices within the Customs [office].”


“Since this is an open investigation, at this moment we cannot comment further on this matter,” he added, and did not elaborate further on the open investigation.


It was already after hours late Friday afternoon in San Francisco when Samoa News tried to seek clarification from Carnevali on the open investigation within ASG.


However, Samoa News understands the open investigation is the same one wherein it was first discovered by USDOL in late 2011, that some government employees' overtime hours were being paid at a straight-time rate, instead of at one and one-half times their regular rate of pay as required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.


The probe resulted in ASG paying close to $1 million to some 300 employees  who were entitled to the overtime payment. ASG was also required by USDOL to adopt a “Plan of Corrective Action” to correct policies and practices in ASG to avoid further fair labor law violations, and the plan includes amendments to the American Samoa Administrative Code (ASAC).


The Customs Officers’ petition to the EEO prompted concerns by Laolagi during last Friday’s Senate session, saying the Senate has a responsibility to find answers to this latest issue, which was reported by the local media. 


Laolagi told Samoa News over the weekend he wants to see this issue resolved before USDOL again focuses on ASG for failure to comply with federal labor laws dealing with the payment of hours worked as well as overtime.


“My concern is that we need to address this issue — as claimed by the Customs officers — before such matter gets out of hand and the federal government will again return with any new fines against ASG for failure to comply with federal law,” Laolagi said in a phone interview.


He said he has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow after the 10a.m. Senate session, in which ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili and Human Resources Department director Sonny Thompson have been called to provide testimonies and answer questions from senators.


“We would also like to hear from the administration as to the type of financial help ASG needs from the Fono to address the overtime problem,” he said, adding it’s important ASG complies with all federal laws.