In his first letter to incoming U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, expressed concern about news reports that American Samoa, a U.S. territory, was excluded from federal minimum wage legislation.
"The United Church of Christ has been deeply involved in the efforts to pass an increase in the Federal Minimum Wage," Thomas wrote on Jan. 12. ". It has always been our conviction that the minimum wage needs to be raised for all who are citizens of the United States or its territories."
Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives claimed that Pelosi knowingly excluded American Samoa - the only U.S. state or territory not covered by the recently passed legislation - because the Del Monte Corporation is located in Pelosi's congressional district. Del Monte owns StarKist Tuna, which employs a majority of Samoan islanders. An estimated 80 percent of American Samoa's economy is dependent on StarKist's cannery operations, according to news reports.
After the omission became public, Pelosi disputed the Republicans' charge and said she would work to right the wrong. On Jan. 14, Democrats said the minimum wage bill would be changed to include all U.S. territories before it reaches President Bush's desk.
The Samoan community in the United States is one of the UCC's largest and fastest-growing racial/ethnic constituencies.
In recent years, nearly 100 Samoan congregations have joined the UCC, thanks in part to the size and strength of the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa, the UCC's partner church.
Thomas wrote, "I myself have visited American Samoa and am well acquainted with the challenging economic realities facing the majority of the island's residents. I urge you and the Congress to immediately reconsider this exemption and extend the benefits of a raise in the minimum wage to all."
Thomas also noted that his predecessor, the Rev. Paul Sherry, was a key leader in the "Let Justice Roll" campaign that helped to galvanize public support for the wage-increase legislation.