CONGRESS CONSIDERS 50-CENT HIKE IN MINIMUM WAGE

News Release

American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega Washington, D.C. April 24, 2007

Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 1591) now before Congress includes language which rather than applying federal minimums would increase wages in American Samoa and CNMI by 50 cents per hour 60 days after enactment of the legislation. The conference agreement would also provide for annual increases of 50 cents per hour every year thereafter until minimum wages in American Samoa and CNMI reach that of the United States. No later than 32 months after enactment, the U.S. Department of Labor, through the Bureau of Statistics, must transmit a report to Congress assessing the wage increases to determine if the local economies can sustain these increases.

[PIR editor’s note: The current minimum wage in American Samoa ranges from US$2.45 an hour to US$3.75 an hour, depending on the type of work. In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the minimum wage is $3.05 an hour.]

"This compromise agreement would require the U.S. Department of Labor to be more comprehensive in its assessment of our economies and also requires Special Industry Committees in American Samoa to take minimum wage hearings more seriously," Faleomavaega said. "For too long, our Special Industry Committees have never really required the tuna industry to be more forthcoming about its profit margins so that we could make an honest determination about whether or not wages could be increased for cannery workers in American Samoa."

"Our Special Industry Committees have also never really addressed the needs of ASG workers who deserve better pay. Given these circumstances, I believe an increase of 50 cents per hour for local government and cannery workers in American Samoa is long over-due. In fact, I believe 50 cents per hour is a good starting point given that our Special Industry Committees have not supported a fair or reasonable increase for our workers for some years now."

"However, I also want to be assured that American Samoa’s economy can sustain this increase," Faleomavaega said. "For now, the legislation before Congress requires that the U.S. Department of Labor transmit a report to Congress assessing the impact of wage increases in American Samoa and the CNMI no later than 32 months after enactment. While I appreciate this provision being included, I am concerned that this language is too vague and, for this reason, I intend to pursue legislative options which offer assurances that corrective action will be taken should any increase prove too much for American Samoa or CNMI."

"I also want to make sure that there will be no increases in the second year until the U.S. Department of Labor transmits its report to Congress. If after the first year the U.S. Department of Labor determines that our economies, canneries or local governments cannot afford additional increases, then I believe further increases should become null and void."

"In my opinion, an increase of 50 cents per hour in the first year with a provision, if necessary, to halt further increases in the second year will balance the interests of our workers as well as our employers. This approach will also protect the economies of CNMI and American Samoa which cannot afford federal minimums of $5.15 to be applied at this time."

"While President Bush has indicated that he may veto this legislation because of other provisions of the bill dealing with the Iraq war, I am hopeful that our workers in American Samoa and CNMI will get the increases they deserve. I am also hopeful that the U.S. Department of Labor will thoroughly assess the impact of any and all wage increases to make sure that the economies of CNMI and American Samoa are protected and that our industries remain competitive."

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