Which allows an American Samoan worker to have a higher standard of living: being employed at $3.26 per hour or unemployed at a wage scheduled to annually increase by 50 cents until it reaches federally mandated wages at $7.25? You say, "Williams, that's a stupid question. Who would support people being unemployed at $7.25 an hour over being employed at $3.26 an hour?" That's precisely the outcome of Congress' 2007 increases in the minimum wage. Chicken of the Sea International moved its operation from Samoa to a highly automated cannery plant in Lyon, Georgia. That resulted in roughly 2,000 jobs lost in Samoa and a gain of 200 jobs in Georgia.
Given Samoa's low cost of living, $3.26 provided Samoan workers a higher standard of living than some of their neighbors on other islands. Now these workers are unemployed. What's worse is that Starkist, Chicken of the Sea's competitor, might leave the island as well. If that happens, increases in the minimum wage will have cost more than 8,000 jobs in Samoa's canneries and related industries; that's nearly half of its labor force. Samoan standard of living will be further reduced by the increased cost of goods it imports. Ships delivering goods from the U.S. and elsewhere to Samoa will not have as much cargo on their return trips, making shipping a costlier proposition.
Cannery jobs flourished in Samoa because of its location and it was one of the few American territories exempted from the minimum wage. Even the proposed 2007 increases in the minimum wage exempted Samoa. Since Del Monte, Starkist's parent company, is headquartered in Speaker Pelosi's San Francisco district and Chicken of the Sea is based in Southern California, Republicans had a field day suggesting that Pelosi's calling for Samoa to be exempted from the increases in the minimum wage reflected political payoffs and a conflict of interest. I thought that as well, as suggested in my May 9, 2007 column, but exempting American Samoa from minimum wage increases would have been the most compassionate act, short of minimum wage repeal.
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