StarKist Begins Phase One Of Layoffs

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (AP) -- Nearly half of the 800 workers StarKist Co. planned to lay off at its American Samoa tuna cannery this year will lose their jobs this weekend.

"The first phase of layoffs will commence on Aug. 28, affecting 380 employees," StarKist Samoa General Manager Brett Butler testified Thursday before the U.S. territory's House Commerce Committee.

He said the rest of the layoffs would occur in October, but no firm date has been set.

The panel called the hearing to learn the status of the company's planned layoffs, which were announced in May as a way to save money.

The job cuts will shrink StarKist's work force in American Samoa to less than 1,200, down from a peak of more than 3,000 two years ago.

StarKist has had to contend with federally mandated minimum-wage increases, but Butler said other costs in such areas as utilities and transportation are also rising.

Lawmakers were hoping Gov. Togiola Tulafono's administration would find ways to help StarKist and prevent the layoffs.

"This is a tremendous economic blow to American Samoa, especially families who will be without a paycheck in the future," Rep. Galu Satele Jr. said.

In response to a question from Satele, Butler said the government had not offered any assistance to StarKist.

"Fact of the matter is, there is no real assistance since the announcement in May," he said.

StarKist officials were scheduled to appear Monday before the territory's Tax Exemption Board to seek a tax exemption on all incoming materials and supplies associated with tuna operations, Butler said.

The layoffs follow September's closure of Chicken of the Sea's tuna cannery in American Samoa, which cost the jobs of 2,100 workers.

The company also cited a 2007 minimum wage law that mandated an increase for workers in 18 industries in American Samoa until the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is reached. The cannery workers' current minimum wage of $4.76 an hour is set to increase by 50 cents Sept. 30 and reach $7.25 an hour by 2014.

More in Labor