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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Union optimistic about retraining, aid

 •  Del Monte quitting pine here

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Union officials have seen the signs of stress, low self-esteem and fear before.

So even as they were reeling with yesterday's announcement that Del Monte Fresh Produce will cease its Hawai'i operations at the end of 2008, officials with the ILWU, Local 142, were already preparing to retrain pineapple workers for jobs outside the plantation, align them with social service agencies to deal with the stress of losing their way of life and perhaps help them negotiate ownership of their plantation homes in Central O'ahu.

Fred Galdones, president of the ILWU, Local 142, saw it before when sugar production ended on O'ahu in the 1990s.

The shock of losing pineapple jobs will devastate some workers while others will adjust quickly.

"It will vary from family to family," Galdones said. "We are going to be using the model we used with the sugar plantation closures to help them. We're going to be working with the (state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations) to help them retool for jobs they don't yet have the skills for, identify where job vacancies are and get them the training. We'll work with Aloha United Way and try to help them secure ownership of their homes in Kunia."

Compared to the sluggish economy that accompanied the sugar layoffs, Hawai'i is currently enjoying a low unemployment rate that continues to lead the rest of the nation, which gives Galdones hope for future employment for soon-to-be displaced pineapple workers.

Some of the older workers may not be physically able to pursue some sought-after employment opportunities, such as construction, Galdones said. But he noted that they may be able to turn to Hawai'i's busy tourism and retail sectors, which are struggling to find enough workers.

The Hawai'i AFL-CIO also pledged its support yesterday.

"We intend to make sure that they receive whatever benefits they're entitled to," said the organization's president, Randy Perreira. "And we intend to provide whatever services we can to ensure that these employees are able to get aid and receive help in getting new jobs."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.