HAWAII SENATOR SEEKS WAGE HIKE DELAY FOR A. SAMOA

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Sen. Inouye wants next increase held for impact study

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 1, 2009) - Congressman Faleomavaega Eni announced last night that U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye personally called him to say that he had introduced provisions in the FY2010 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill to delay the next minimum wage increase until after the U.S. Government Accountability Office completes its report on the impact of the minimum wage increases on American Samoa and CNMI.

Faleomavaega said the Senate Appropriations Committee — chaired by Inouye — marked up and favorably reported out the bill on Thursday.

During a meeting yesterday held at U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s office, Faleomavaega said he updated Gov. Togiola Tulafono on the latest development regarding the delay in the minimum wage.

The next wage hike is set for May 2010 and Faleomavaega said in June that U.S. Rep. George Miller and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy "have agreed to postpone the May 2010 increase until September 30, 2010." He also said at the time they will ask Inouye to add language to the supplemental appropriations bill in support of the delay.

(Miller and Kennedy chair their respective committees with oversight on labor issues.)

"I want to thank Senator Inouye for his support in postponing the next minimum wage increase from May 2010 until September 2010," Faleomavaega said in a statement last night. "This four month delay, we believe, will provide Congress with the time it needs to respond to the findings of the GAO, and postpone further increases, if necessary."

He said Miller and Kennedy had agreed to this delay back in May of this year but had no legislative vehicle to move the language forward.

"Their offices and mine turned to Senator Inouye to make this happen, and the Senator promised he would help us," he said. "I also thank Senator Inouye for taking over an hour of his time on Wednesday of this week to meet with the Governor and me to discuss the serious challenges American Samoa is facing."

"I was invited to the meeting by the Senator and appreciated that the Senator accepted my request to also invite StarKist and Bumble Bee representatives," he said.

The congressman noted that others attending the meeting with the governor were the Fono leaders, Secretary of Samoan Affairs, three District Governors, and Mr. Carlos Sanchez.

"The governor presented the [minimum wage] petition," said Faleomavaega, adding that he requested support for his American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources and Employment (ASPIRE) proposal.

"Senator Inouye made it clear [during the meeting] that Congress will not make a final decision about minimum wage at this time until the GAO completes its study, and the Senator advised that American Samoa speak with one voice."

"Last month, when I returned to American Samoa to seek input from our local leaders regarding ASPIRE, I urged that we stand united. If we are divided, we will fail. Now that Senator Inouye has reiterated this message, I am hopeful that we can strike a balance and do what is best for our business community and our workers," he said.

During the meeting with Inouye, Faleomavaega noted that he didn’t know anything about the petition to U.S. President Barack Obama until reading about it in the newspaper.

Faleomavaega said that it was only during his meeting early this week with the governor and his delegation that he received a copy of the petition.

"I thanked the Governor for giving me a copy but until I have an opportunity to review it, I cannot comment at this time about the contents or substance of the petition," he said. "However, regardless of the contents, I do believe that we can find a way to help our workers keep up with the higher costs of living while also being helpful to our business community. To this end, I will continue to reach out to our local leaders and do everything I can to protect and further the interests of our people," he said.

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