Am. Samoa Government Reviews Unpaid Overtime Pay Claims

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US Department of Labor ordered payment of $144,000 to customs officers

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 10, 2014) – Human Resources Director Sonny Thompson says the American Samoa Government will not back down from their belief that they are entitled to conduct their own internal investigation "and review the legitimacy of the write-ups" of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage & Hour Division conclusion into the disputed overtime of Customs Officers.

The HR Director, who recently returned on island, said he met with District Director, Terence J. Trotter of the USDOL and Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga last month. The governor did not authorize the payment of $144,000 which the United States Department of Labor has said ASG must pay for overtime incurred by Customs Officers.

"I want to thank the governor for setting up this meeting, but most important, remaining steadfast in his philosophy to give the ASG first the opportunity to conduct its internal investigation and review the legitimacy of the write-ups," he said, adding that he was appreciative of the meeting, and for the USDOL working with ASG to resolve this long overdue issue.

"This meeting also recaptured the spirit and terms of the Partnership Agreement between the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division and the American Samoa Government signed by Governor Lolo M. Moliga and Mr. Ruben Rosalez, Regional Administration on February 6, 2014.

Thompson added, "This meeting focused on our discussion referencing the result of their continued investigation into the Overtime/Comp time issue with the American Samoa Government; specifically the Customs Division under the Department of Treasury."

He further told Samoa News that while under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the responsibility to enforce the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and child labor requirements is shouldered by the federal Labor's Wage and Hour Division, it is absolutely necessary that ASG under the authority of the Governor, challenge any findings or show proof before any binding agreement or settlement is reached.

"It is a long process and very time consuming but to do otherwise is undeserving of our workforce and setting the precedent leading us to a slippery slope. Accordingly, the alleged sum of $143,528.14 due to overtime back wages for over 62 Customs employees has been reviewed and the final numbers and amount will be finalized very soon."

The HR Director also attended the Workforce Development training in San Francisco, where he was accompanied by the HR Deputy Director on Training and Development Makerita Enesi.

He explained the meeting was very informative and gave them the incentive to move forward; refocus and realign objectives" to fully actualize training our youth not just academically, but also developing traits preparing them to enter the workforce."

Thompson continued, "The meeting also covered issues with compliance with Federal Grant policies and cost management and encouraged sharing information with other governmental agencies on related activities associated with workforce development."

He said the issue of workforce development is not a stand-alone concept. "It encompasses government, private sector, community college and the educational system. It is a cycle that must be constantly reviewed and defined to meet the rapid moving demand in our economy in terms of marketable skills and traits."

He pointed out that a noteworthy point is the American Apprenticeships program, where in April President Obama highlighted the need to advance apprenticeships as a job-driven strategy — to connect ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-fill jobs.

"The president announced a $100 million dollar investment called American Apprenticeship Grants; it is expected this will roll out in the fall, and we will keep an eye on this great opportunity to boost our efforts on workforce development," said Thompson.

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