Displaced Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company (HC&S) employees are eligible to receive federal funding through a worker aid program.
The millions of dollars in federal money would provide compensation to help replace lost wages and cover the expenses for job retraining, including tuition, books, transportation, and job search and relocation allowances.
U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez has yet to approve the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 142’s request for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and Alternative TAA for those workers. U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D, Hawaii, sent Perez a letter Thursday urging expedited review and approval.
This is the first time that Hawaii workers displaced by foreign trade have qualified for these funds as a matter of statute. The TAA program provides benefits to eligible workers who lost their jobs due to the adverse effects of foreign trade.
According to the law, HC&S workers are eligible for TAA because the International Trade Commission issued a determination that the dumping of sugar from Mexico caused serious injury to the domestic sugar industry, and specifically named HC&S as one of the domestic firms impacted.
“This is a significant amount of new federal money that will help to replace some of the lost wages and cover the costs of job retraining,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D, Hawaii. “Think of it this way. If a worker exhausts their 26 weeks of unemployment insurance through the state, they can then go to Maui College for retraining, and for a minimum of 65 weeks and possibly up to 130 weeks, go back to school and continue to receive that cash support, both to support their family and also to have all of the tuition paid for.”
Layoffs began this month, though approximately half of the 675 employees will be retained through the completion of the final sugar harvest at the end of 2016.
The amount workers receive would depend on individual circumstances, but they may be able to access up to $2,000 a month in direct cash support for an additional year or longer while they are retrained to find a new job.
The new federal funding would provide additional support for HC&S workers on top of already existing state benefits that they are entitled to receive.
“Our rapid response teams at the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations have been on-island already, assisting displaced workers, and this is great news because it provides bridge and assistance for many kinds of costs that there are no state or federal programs to support,” said Gov. David Ige.
“This has not happened in the past with the other sugar plantation workers, because we were not able to make the case that the sugar plantations closed directly as a result of trade policy,” Schatz explained. “Here, because we have a case involving a sugar dumping that went to the ITC, and there was a determination specifically that HC&S was harmed by sugar dumping, that’s the reason that we’re eligible for TAA.”
Workers at companies that are impacted by HC&S’s closure may also be eligible for the same benefits and the companies may be eligible for business consulting services.
“We know there are some additional economic impacts on the island of Maui that didn’t immediately come to mind. Everybody first of course thought of the people who worked the plantation themselves, but there are people in trucking and supply and in other parts of the economy that are really being impacted,” Schatz said. “They would also be eligible to make an application to the federal government for TAA assistance.”
The U.S. Department of Labor would provide expedited review to any TAA petitions submitted by or on behalf of HC&S workers laid off in the year before and the year after the date the ITC determination was published in the Federal Register, which was Nov. 16, 2015. USDOL’s review would be limited to verifying the information submitted and would not include any additional investigation since the workers are statutorily eligible for adjustment assistance.
Displaced HC&S workers who have questions on accessing federal relief can contact their local Workforce Development Division One-Stop Office at (808) 984-2091.