Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Something Fishy?

According to Republican North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry something fishy is going on and Republican Virginia Representative Eric Cantor is "shocked" just plain shocked. So what has gotten their knickers in a bunch? The federal minimum wage bill and the "exemption" awarded to American Samoa. What!?! Are hard working Samoans (and Tongans) being exploited by the palagi? First a little background...One of the main industries of the island are the tuna canneries. Starkist and Chicken of the Sea (made famous by Jessica Simpson) pack a whole lot of fish on the island. While being downwind from the canneries (or Jessica Simpson for that matter) is not the best experience, it does employee a significant number of residents on the island (sadly, Jessica Simpson does not employee the same number of residents). Some figures put the canneries (and affiliated services) representing almost 80% of the private workforce.

American Samoa does not follow the federal minimum wage structure, but for the past 30 years has used its own minimum wage structure set by the Department of Labor. It is reviewed every two years and ranges from $2.68 to $4.09 depending on the industry. Dept. of Labor prepares an economic analysis, a consultative committee investigates industry conditions to develop a recommended level for different industries, and the Secretary determines and promulgates the final rates. (the cannery workers make about $3.26 per hour). I am no economist, but this does sound like a pretty good program for an island group only 76 square miles with limited natural resources, small domestic market, limited access to off-island resources (we can't even get lettuce on a regular basis!) and lack of investment opportunities. It also seems to have been working for the past 30 years. If Am. Sam. was included in the federal minimum wage, most people agree that the canneries would be on the next flight out of here (which only occurs twice a week, Rep. McHenry, can you do something about that?).

However, it seems that StarKist's parent company (Del Monte Corp.) is headquartered in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House. So, of course, the exclusion of American Samoa from the new federal minimum wage hike is "the hypocrisy and double talk that we have come to expect from the Democrats" according to Rep. Cantor. I guess it doesn't matter that American Samoa has been "exempt" from every federal minimum wage hike for the past 30 years because of its special industry committee program. oh well.

I understand the concept of scoring political points and realize that it would not be the worse thing in the world if the canneries eventually left Am. Sam. and the territory was not so dependent on one industry. For example, Nick Lachey has survived his divorce with Jessica Simpson.However, before Reps. McHenry and Cantor attempt to score political points with the economy of Am. Sam. in the balance, I would prefer for them to make sure they can find Am. Sam. on a map. If they truly want to treat everyone equal, before they tinker with Am. Sam.'s minimum wage, they should figure out how they can get (fresh) lettuce on the island on a regular basis.

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