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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Job fair set for laid-off workers

By Greg Wiles and Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writers

The 551 Del Monte workers slated to lose their jobs in January have a chance to interview with prospective employers at a job fair to be held Dec. 13 at the company's Kunia gym. State officials will also invite employers in the healthcare industry to participate.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The state will hold a job fair next month for hundreds of Del Monte Fresh Produce employees, who are set to lose their jobs in January.

The job fair, to be held Dec. 13 at Del Monte's Kunia gym, will give workers a chance to interview with prospective employers. Some companies have already called inquiring about the workers, said state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations director Nelson Befitel.

"Fortunately we have a very low unemployment rate in Hawai'i," Befitel said. "We believe there are enough jobs in the agricultural industry and the tourism industry. We have a lot of people retiring from various state agencies, so we can all invite them to the job fair on Dec. 13 and encourage them to hire these displaced workers."

State officials will also invite employers in the healthcare industry to participate in the job fair.

Del Monte said last week that it will shut down its Hawai'i operations immediately and lay off 551 employees on or around Jan. 22. The company had said in February that it would close operations at the end of 2008.

Befitel said the Del Monte layoff is one of the largest the state has had to deal with in the past four or five years.

Officials said all workers will be paid until Jan. 22.

State labor and agriculture officials met with representatives from the ILWU Local 142, the city and Del Monte yesterday to discuss the worker situation. The state and city will send out a team of labor specialists tomorrow to assess workers' job skills and determine what kind of training and job assistance they need. The city and state will then apply for a National Emergency Grant for job training and job placement programs.

Befitel added workers may also need English-as-a-second-language courses since many mostly speak Ilocano. The grant will ensure that workers will get the type of training they need.

The amount asked for in the grant application won't be known until an assessment of workers' needs is completed, Befitel said. He said the federal government granted about $900,000 in job training and other funding when hotels on Maui and the Big Island were shuttered for renovations recently.

"I think it's a very uneasy time for (the workers), especially during the holiday season," said Befitel, who said he could empathize with the workers because his father was laid off from pineapple plantation jobs on Moloka'i by Del Monte and Dole.

"We're here to help. We have a good staff that has dealt with these issue in the past. ... We're committed to helping them to make sure that they find jobs in their future."

Reach Greg Wiles at gwiles@honoluluadvertiser.com and Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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