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Just asking: What about a special industry committee for min wage?

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A press release published by Samoa News last Friday shows the written statement that Gov. Lemanu Peleti Palepoi Sialega Mauga presented to a US House committee and mentioned a proposed $15 per hour federal minimum wage hike. The governor suggested that a special industry committee be establish for American Samoa.

Has this been suggested before and when is the next minimum wage hike — since it was not mentioned in the press release?

Samoa News’ reply:

The $15 per hour minimum wage hike is proposed in US President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan pending in the US Congress and the governor’s suggestion of a Specialized Industry Committee — consisting of local and federal stakeholders to determine a federal minimum wage for the Territory — has been voiced several times with federal officials by the previous Lolo/ Lemanu Administration, without success.

Former Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga again suggested such a committee, in his May 5, 2020 comment letter to a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) draft report on the status of American Samoa’s economy as it related to federal minimum wage increases. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Lolo informed GAO that it’s “important to note” that ASG prefers to establish a Special Industry Committee composed of both local — public and private sector stakeholders — and relevant federal partners — US Labor Department, US Interior Department, etc. — to “further research and determine a feasible minimum wage rate that can withstand the territory’s economic conditions.”

He also suggested a moratorium be placed on future wage increases to allow ample time to establish an industry committee.

USDOI suggested at the time that GAO conduct a further study, including on the use of a committee to set minimum wages. The suggested study was beyond the scope of this report.

However, GAO said the suggestions were beyond the scope of the report which — among other things — examines economic trends including changes in employment and earnings since the minimum wage increases in American Samoa began in 2007 and the status of the tuna canning industry.

Lolo had established the American Samoa Minimum Wage Task Force that came up with findings and recommendations, including the creation of a Special Industry Committee. And the report was submitted to all relevant federal agencies.

With the new Biden Administration in office, some ASG officials are hopeful that the suggestion of a special industry committee will be taken seriously going forward.

The last minimum wage hike for American Samoa was Sept. 30, 2018 putting the cannery's minimum wage at $5.56 per hour while the government's minimum wage was set at $5.21 per hour.

The current federal schedule establishes increases of 40 cents every three years for all 18 industry categories with the next increase scheduled for September 2021.

Samoa News has been getting inquires from cannery workers on when the next wage increase will occur. The cannery is the largest private employer in American Samoa.