AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNOR TO LOBBY AGAINST WAGE HIKE

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 17) – American Samoa Governor Togiola left for Washington D.C. via Apia Monday night to lobby the U.S. Congress for support in excluding American Samoa from a U.S. minimum wage bill pending in Congress. Togiola—recovering from a kidney stone operation performed in Honolulu—said his doctors had given him the okay to travel.

Acting Governor Ipulasi Sunia issued a statement yesterday evening saying that although Togiola had just returned home Sunday night to recuperate, because of changes in the bill over the weekend, his advisers in Washington D.C. indicated "that it was imperative and in the best interest of the territory" that the governor travel to D.C.

Recent moves by House-Democrats to make sure that all of the territories have to comply with the U.S. law on minimum wage, necessitates briefing federal lawmakers about American Samoa's minimum wage system, which is set by a special industry committee that determines appropriate minimum wages for American Samoa every two years.

Both government and business leaders believe that if the federal minimum wage is applied to American Samoa, it will kill our economy.

[PIR editor’s note: According to a related report, Governor Togiola said that if the federal measure increasing the minimum wage includes American Samoa, it would kill the territory’s economy and it may not be possible to revive it except for the injection of large federal funds. American Samoa Congressman Faleomavaega has also commented on the measure saying that increasing the territory’s minimum wage to mirror federal levels would devastate the tuna industry.]

Ipulasi said Togiola would tell Congress that American Samoa is in compliance with U.S. laws on minimum wage through three specific requirements on the wage setting process:

- The American Samoa minimum wages are to reach the single mainland minimum wage ­ now US$5.15 per hour ­ as rapidly as is economically feasible without substantially curtailing employment;

- The minimum wage for each industry must be the highest wage rate that ­ having due regard for economic and competitive conditions ­ will not substantially curtail employment in the industry; and

- The minimum wages set must not give a competitive advantage to American Samoa industry over U.S. industry outside of American Samoa.

Ipulasi said this wage setting process continues to work for American Samoa with review every two years by the Department of Labor and, "... The belief is, eventually we will catch up with U.S. minimum wage level."

Before departing the territory, Togiola sent letters to numerous U.S. senators, including Edward M. Kennedy, who chairs the committee reviewing the federal minimum wage bill, and Hawaii Senators Akaka and Inouye to solicit their support and "correct any [misconception] in Congress that minimum wage requirements do not cover American Samoa."

"For our business community in American Samoa, with Governor Togiola in Washington D.C., you can rest assured that he is doing all that he can to explain our special situation and how we comply with minimum wage at a level that the Territory can manage," said Ipulasi. "We are doing the best we can. Let us remain calm here at home. [W]e need your support and let us hope for the best for all of us. There is no cause for panic."

In the meantime, a Fono resolution is being drafted and is to be sent to Congress explaining why it is in the best interest of American Samoa that it is not included in the federal minimum wage measure.

Officials of the local Senate, the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce and the Governor's Office are working on the Fono resolution following a meeting between Senate President Lolo M. Moliga and two top officials of the business organization yesterday.

"This is one of my commitments made clear to the Chamber because its an issue that I believe the Fono, the private sector and the Executive Branch should stand together and present to Congress as a united front," said Lolo following the meeting with Chamber president David Robinson and vice president Susing Alivia.

"We know our economy better than anyone else and we would need to present our firm stand to combat the minimum wage football that is now being played out in Washington D.C.," he said.

Lolo said they would all be working on drafting a Fono concurrent resolution that will clearly express American Samoa's concerns if it's included in the federal measure.

The measure, passed by the U.S. House last week, raises the federal minimum wage from US$5.15 an hour to US$7.25. It doesn't include American Samoa.

However, media reports indicate that an amendment will be made to include American Samoa before the bill goes to President Bush for his signature. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the revelation after being criticized that the territory wasn't included because Del Monte Foods Co., which owns StarKist, is in her district.

"It's one of the worst decision-making we have seen," said Robinson. "We are supportive of the governor and what he has done so far to exclude American Samoa, because inclusion of the territory will have disastrous implications on us. We must emphasize the consequences this bill will have on American Samoa if enacted into law."

The Chamber President said the local organization is preparing a separate letter to be sent, hopefully today, to Pelosi.

Lolo said he also hopes to hear from the governor and Congressman Faleomavaega on the status of this, and whether they need any type of assistance from the Fono. Lolo hopes the U.S. Senate will not make a quick decision to include American Samoa without getting the proper input from the territory, which will be mostly affected by the bill.

Faleomavaega was scheduled to meet with Pelosi yesterday or today regarding the minimum wage bill.

The federal measure, the House's version, is now with the Senate Health Education Labor Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy. The U.S. Senate has it own version of the measure, sponsored by Harry Reid of Nevada with 34 co-sponsors. Complete text of the senate version is not yet posted on the Congressional Web site.

The Samoa News: http://www.samoanews.com/

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