Am. Samoa Congresswomen Pushes For Delay In Wage Hike

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Federal minimum wage mandate ‘nail in coffin for local economy’

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 30, 2015) – In arguing for federal legislation which would delay until 2017 the next 50 cent minimum wage increase, which goes into effect today, Congresswoman Aumua Amata called on her colleagues to reverse some of the missteps the United States has taken over the years which have left the American Samoa economy in this highly vulnerable position.

Amata’s lengthy speech was presented on the House floor Monday, when the bill she sponsored was presented for a vote, and followed by a voice vote in which the legislation was passed. It went to the Senate the following day, but was unable to get through the legislative process in time to prevent the new hike to take effect.

In her speech, Amata argued that the federally mandated wage hikes "would surely be the proverbial nail in the coffin for the local economy", as the two canneries that are currently operating out of American Samoa have stated the strong possibility of having to leave the territory because they simply would not be able to compete financially against their foreign competitors.

Currently, due to many factors, the long-term continuity of the Pago Pago-based canneries is now threatened by reduced tuna deliveries and supply, which will negatively affect cannery production, impact cannery employment and support services, and could possibly destroy American Samoa's economy altogether, she said.

She pointed to past decisions by the federal government that have led to the current dire situation. For example, in 2005 the US agreed to reduce fishing opportunities by U.S. purse seine vessels on the high seas and within the U.S. EEZ. Meanwhile, the U.S. purse seine fleet had contracted from 49 vessels in 1994 to just 11 in 2007.

Another example she cited, is that in 2013 the US agreed to pay a combined amount, from both government and industry, of approximately $90 million, while agreeing to further reduce the United States fishing effort on the high seas.

The following year, the US agreed to an "inexcusable deal", to the detriment of American Samoa, reducing the amount of fishing days available in Kiribati waters to the United States fleet from 4,313 to just 300 days — in just one year.

In addition, the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and the high seas effort limit have further reduced the fishing grounds available to the American Samoa-based purse seine fleet, leading to the dire situation facing American Samoa's local canneries today.

Like other small island developing states and territories in the Pacific, she argued that American Samoa and the fishing industry it supports should be afforded special recognition, "not crushed by the worst aspects of capitalism--and I say this as a devout capitalist," said Amata.

"We must reverse some of the missteps the United States has taken over the years which have left the American Samoa economy in this highly vulnerable position," she continued.

"The tuna canning industry is all we have. There is no Coca-Cola or IBM. We have no Silicon Valley there to provide massive revenue and employment opportunity to the territory," she pointed out. "There aren't numerous military and government facilities that provide sources of economic growth."

"We are not surrounded by fellow States that enable us to expand to other markets. All we have is the tuna industry, and we are grateful for them," she said.

Prior to Amata’s speech, US Rep. Mike Bishop urged his colleagues for support saying that the bill "is supported by local leaders in American Samoa. It is supported by employers in American Samoa, and, most importantly, it is supported by the working men and women of American Samoa."

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