In its old “Charley the Tuna” ads, Starkist used to say that it doesn’t want tuna with good taste, but rather tuna that taste good. To the extent that Starkist doesn’t want House Speakers with good taste, it seems to have what it wants in Nancy Pelosi.
The conglomorate that owns Starkist, Delmonte, is headquartered in Speaker Pelosi’s district in San Francisco. Starkist processes large amounts of tuna in American Samoa. Apparently, 75 percent of the island’s workforce is employed by Starkist.
It happens that American Samoa is the one territory exempted from legislation passed by the the House that will raise the minimum wage over time from $5.15 hour to $7.25. The reach of that law extends even to the islands of the Northern Marinas, but not to American Samoa, where Nancy Pelosi’s giant constituent will be able to keep paying its workers $5.15 an hour.
UPDATE: Reader Bret Lee writes:
American Samoa already had one of the last remaining exceptions to the federal minimum wage in place. The minimum wage there is determined by a panel of industry leaders, and is about $3.30 an hour for most people who work in a tuna cannery. The panel has to match increases in rates from the mainland, but does not match the federal minimum wage. Starkist never had to pay workers there $5.15 an hour [as I mistakenly said in my original post].
Starkist has one of the two canneries on the island, and the Department of Labor says under 5,000 are employed between the two canneries, or about 36% of the island’s workforce. About 60% of the workforce is employed in a tuna related field, like harbor workers or on ships based out of the area. Most of the rest are government employees, go figure. So it is certainly not 75% of the workforce working for Del Monte, like some papers report.
At any rate, the industry there is already falling apart to competition from Asia and problems with opening tariffs, and even at three bucks an hour is one of the highest paying jobs in the region. Needless to say, a jump up to the proposed minimum wage would be the last nail in the coffin of the tuna industry there.
I think the exception is not due to any patronage by Del Monte to Pelosi, but rather continuing a policy already in place that American Samoa does not need to match the minimum wage, since the wages there are already high for the region, and there is no way the industry there could survive a hike. I got all this from the Department of Labor website.
These are good points that cast the situation in a different light. But is American Samoa the only jurisdiction where a $7.25 minimum wage would cause hardship to an industry? What about the islands of the Northern Marinas and its low-wage clothing workers, about whom PBS and Pelosi’s fellow Bay area respresentative George Miller tried to raise a stink when Jack Abramoff lobbied to keep wages low?
My view is that in a free market economy employers in all industries should have the right to set their wages and, in all events, minimum wage laws should not extend outside the 50 states. But if you have a minimum wage, and special exemptions are carved out by Congress, then you’re immediately thrust into “the culture of corruption” as industries lobby powerful members of Congress to obtain, or in this case retain, exemptions.