Hundreds of sugar plantation employees to receive support during layoffs

Local News

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, the last sugar plantation in Hawaii, will end its sugar operations at the end of the year.

Hundreds of workers will lose their jobs in the process, making this one of Hawaii’s largest mass layoffs in the past decade.

The company told us Wednesday it expects 2015 losses to reach $30 million, and can no longer stay in the sugar business.

In just a few months, the first round of layoffs will begin for workers who prepare the fields.

With hundreds of people heading to the unemployment line, we wanted to know what kind of help is being offered, and the impact on the state’s job market.

“All the employees are eligible for certain amounts of severance, but we want to increase that and it could take any number of forms, including cash, and various benefits and what we will work out with the union,” said Christopher Benjamin, president and CEO of Alexander & Baldwin, which owns HC&S. “Over time, we hope that it will be a large number, but initially, it will be a really small core group.”

Benjamin says up to 30 employees out of the 675 could stay with the company. About 100 are management employees, and many of the workers have pension programs and 401ks.

Meanwhile, ILWU Local 142, the union that represents those employees, says it is connecting with members to make sure everyone understands the process.

“Personally, it was a shock,” said union president Donna Domingo.

Domingo says field workers make up to $16 per hour, and skilled employees like mechanics, truck drivers and electricians, make up to $21 per hour.

A&B will provide transition coordinators to help employees, and the state labor department is also prepared to help.

“They will be providing information on unemployment benefits, career transition, job training, job placement,” said director Linda Chu Takayama.

Chu Takayama says she doesn’t believe the layoffs will have a huge impact on the state’s unemployment numbers, but Domingo believes the transition will impact the community as a whole.

“Being a resident of Maui, the impact is huge. Community, vendors — HC&S gets everything local, so things are going to (be affected),” said Domingo.

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