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Residents cool to reversal of minimum wage increase

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, July 13, 2009) - The petition drive is doing well at vendors on the eastern side of the island, but not so well on the western side, where more of the population resides, says David Robinson.

He says that he is being labeled as an "interfering palagi" by many local and off-island Samoans for being involved in an issue locals should handle.

The minimum wage petition calls on U.S. President Barack Obama to reverse the mandated minimum wage increases imposed on American Samoa, because it’s "causing undue economic turmoil and hardship in the territory." It also calls for the process of setting minimum wage rates in the territory to be returned to Special Industry Committees.

"The petition is not being strongly supported, which is what I expected," Robinson told Samoa News last Thursday afternoon. "We really need a lot of support from every sector of our community, more than what we are getting at this point. This is a difficult issue for some people but we need everyone pulling in the same direction."

Robinson said the petition is in place at various business establishments throughout Tutuila and so far the "private sector and residents on the Eastern side have shown a lot of support -- maybe because it’s where the canneries are located."

But in some areas of the Bay Area heading to the western side "there is a little bit of reluctance from the community to signing the petition," he said, who noted that one of the reasons for this is some believe they will not be affected by the cannery closure or the minimum wage."

Robinson said, "We would like to reiterate our message again, that by the end of September, when COS Samoa Packing is closed, it will effect everyone because of the impact of so many people unemployed, which will have a snowball effect on the territory,"

"I think it’s irresponsible of people to oppose the petition," he noted.

One impact on the community will include drastic hikes in food costs, because shipping costs will go up -- due to the fact that the container vessels will be without shipments by Samoa Packing, he said, noting this point has also been raised several times by Gov. Togiola Tulafono.

Robinson said the big concern is the "huge" number of people who will be laid off, which will have a drastic impact on the local economy, especially families.

He also acknowledged he has been accused by so many people of being an "interfering palagi" in local affairs.

"I take objection to that accusation," Robinson said. "I have been a resident of our territory for a long time...long enough to know what’s going on and do my part to help our community."

"If they don’t like me personally, that is their problem -- but there are a lot of better things for me to do such as looking after the interest of the Chamber of Commerce and the private sector," he said. "I do resent this sort of criticism but we are prepared to stand up to do our part on behalf of our community."

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