Thursday, February 22, 2007

Our New Minimum Wage

As promised, during the House of Representatives' first 100 (working) hours the federal minimum wage was raised. Immediately after its passage questions were raised as to why American Samoa was exempted from the wage increase. Some representatives pointed to the fact that one of the largest employers in American Samoa, Del Monte, is headquartered in San Francisco, which just happens to be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's home district. These representatives waxed indignant at Speaker Pelosi's hypocrisy, especially considering her vocal proclamations of presiding over the most ethical Congress in history. Congressional leadership initially defended American Samoa's exemption, saying that the US territory had always been exempted from the federal wage standard. However, within days these leaders promised to change the bill to include American Samoa.

Despite the public brouhaha, I don't think anything unethical happened here, unless you count giving in to political pressure in order to save face as being unethical. For you "follow the money" folks, the Washington Times reported that Del Monte has not given a penny to any Democrat in the last five years. What I do think happened is that Speaker Pelosi and other House leaders listened to American Samoa's non-voting representative, Eni Faleomavaega, when he said that the minimum wage could "devastate the local economy". Or perhaps they read Del Monte VP Melissa Murphy Brown's warning that the wage hike would "severely cripple the local economy."

Interestingly, the sponsor of the bill, Representative George Miller, argued that American Samoa doesn't need to be covered by the minimum wage because a Labor Department committee reviews the island's minimum wage every two years. It would seem that this committee has historically agreed with Rep. Faleomavaega and VP Brown and allowed the current wages of $2.70 per hour to remain. It is instructional to note that listening to local elected officials, local business leaders, and providing some federal oversite and auditing functions has for the past 50 years settled on a local minimum wage far different than the one Congress has arbitrarily set. Unfortunately, because of its inevitable passage, the new federal minimum wage has put many American Samoans in danger of losing their job.


Charles D said...

First of all, this charge from the newspaper of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has already been discredited. Speaker Pelosi supported several versions of the Fair Minimum Wage Act after it was first introduced by Democrats in 1999, three years before Del Monte bought StarKist, and each version has included a wage hike for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands but not for American Samoa. Republican House members also introduced minimum wage proposals in 2005 and 2006 that included a wage hike for the Northern Mariana Islands but not for American Samoa.

So maybe this is a bipartisan situation. Whether any Samoans will lose their jobs, we have yet to find out. If they do, they owe thanks to the Republicans who falsely attacked Pelosi caused this mess.

Cameron said...

I respectfully submit that you have completely missed the point.

I purposely left out any talk of partisanship or from what party anyone involved hailed. The post has nothing whatever to do with stupid political gamesmanship.

I heard of this story when it first broke in January. It struck me that there are two real points to all of this.

First, poor American Samoa. The United States has apparently failed them because our representatives care more about scoring points and keeping power. If what their Representative said is true, along with the warning from DelMonte, then those workers will lose their jobs. The plants will either close and move or have massive layoffs. Either way, those people will be harmed.

Second, I found it very instructive of the broader issue of the minimum wage. If $7.50 is good enough for the dairymen and farmers of the Magic Valley, then why not for the laborers of American Samoa? Why is $2.70 an hour an acceptable "living wage" for that area but not here? Don't they deserve to be paid a higher wage just as much as Idaho laborers do? Apparently not. Apparently their local situation was taken into account, local business and elected leaders were heard from, and a far different conclusion was made than what our Congress passed into law.

I just wonder why.

Charles D said...

It is a good question about American Samoa, but I have to confess inadequate knowledge of the economic situation there to comment. However, the charge by the Moonie paper was that Pelosi was somehow doing a political favor for a business in her district (as though that were something unusual that Repubs never do). Your whole first paragraph was reporting the Moonie article and the brouhaha it raised - that's what I was responding to.

Cameron said...

I have to confess inadequate knowledge of the economic situation there to comment

Which is exactly my point. Why do we insist on a broad minimum wage when we have "inadequate knowledge of the economic situation" in each area? Is Jerome, Idaho's economy the same as Ithaca, New York's? Is Ithaca the same as American Samoa?

For me, that was the real story of the minimum wage "controversy".