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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 6:26 p.m., Friday, November 17, 2006

Union issues statement on Del Monte's closure

Advertiser Staff

The following is the statement from the ILWU Local 142 on the announcement today that Del Monte would close its Hawai'i operations on Jan. 22, about two years ahead of schedule.

For Immediate Release


Del Monte Fresh Produce (Hawaii) announced this morning that the company has decided to shut down and lay off employees due to the closure of the entire Hawaii operations. In a letter to Fred Galdones, President of ILWU Local 142, Del Monte said: "The Company will cease all production, operations, and shipments out of Hawaii effective immediately with layoffs of all employees scheduled to take place on or about January 22, 2007."

This announcement is a huge blow to more than 500 ILWU members working for Del Monte and hundreds of retirees. All of them believed the company's repeated assurances that operations in Hawaii would continue into 2008.

The ILWU, however, expected the timetable to be pushed up when the previous General Manager, Edward Littleton, left Hawaii in late September and turned over management to his Human Resources Director, Stacie Sasagawa. With little experience running a huge pineapple plantation, no one could have expected Ms. Sasagawa to keep the plantation going into 2008.

Nevertheless, the announcement was a surprise given the timing. Being laid off is never easy, but being told just as the holidays are approaching is especially cruel. The layoff is occurring 60 days from the announcement, in compliance with federal law However, the company has indicated to some workers that they will not be offered work during that period, meaning unemployment and probably no pay.

Del Monte may try to blame the Hawaii operation for its corporate losses worldwide and use that as an excuse to close down operations sooner than 2008. But that's just a ruse.

Del Monte Fresh Produce (Hawaii) has had management in Hawaii, but all the decisions, including today's announcement, have been made by Del Monte's corporate office in Coral Gables Since February, when the company announced plans to close in 2008, the ILWU has been in negotiations with Del Monte management in Hawaii on enhancement of severance and benefits and on the status of Kunia Camp.

Some 125 families live in Kunia Camp, which is operated by Del Monte on land owned by Campbell Estate. Under terms of Del Monte's lease with Campbell, the company is required to restore the land to the condition in which it was first leased--that is, remove the housing and the crop in the fields. Today's announcement leaves Kunia Camp residents uncertain about the future of their housing.

Del Monte has clearly been disingenuous with the ILWU and the community about its plans. When the union engaged in contract negotiations with all the pineapple companies in 2004, Del Monte asked for concessions and assured the ILWU that it expected to remain in business for the long haul. The company may have known all along that they would not continue operations in Hawaii but just wanted to secure the concessions

ILWU President Fred Galdones said, "I'm very disappointed with this announcement, though it's not completely unexpected. This company (Del Monte) has been less than honest with us from the start. Unlike locally owned companies under similar circumstances, Del Monte has consistently refused to provide any additional benefits to help the workers through the layoff. With no ties to Hawaii, Del Monte has exploited the employees and the community and really doesn't care how they leave Hawaii."

Del Monte is fleeing Hawaii, taking the know-how it has gained from the workers and Hawaii's pineapple industry to produce pineapple elsewhere in the world where labor costs and labor standards are far lower than in Hawaii or the U.S. If Del Monte is allowed to get away without paying something to compensate for the huge hole it is creating in Hawaii's economy, it would be a travesty of justice.

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