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Looking for labor.

Intense competition for available employees on Maui led us to go out and look for additional sources of labor. We can get enough employees, but we need a labor force that will stay with us permanently. A seasonal labor force from off island that comes to Maui for work and then goes home at the end of the season doesn't develop a strong foundation of employees that can work their way up through the company and move into supervisory positions. Our base of permanent workers is getting very shallow, and we need to rebuild that.

One of the ways we're trying to do that is with the workers we're bringing in from the mainland who are not students--the older, more settled people who don't have to go back to a family, who can stay here a lot longer. Many of our migrant workers who came here last March are still here, and they have been upgraded into other positions. These are people who are willing to stay with us, who have now become socially involved in the community, and have even moved out of the (company) dormitories and are now living in their own homes.

Getting started. The first group of 32 men arrived in March 1990. Because of their experience with farm work--most of them definitely had long backgrounds is farm work--they fit right in. So they were great at picking pineapple, and it was not difficult to train them. You had enough of a mix of those who spoke good English to assist those who didn't, and that really worked. Physically they were ready for this kind of work, because that's what they've been doing. They were harvesting, weeding, planting, driving trucks, and working in the garage. They've also driven tractors and done many other jobs--they've done a good job in many areas.

There's been very little problem with them fitting in--they were accepted very well. I think our employees realize there's really a need; we have to have a certain amount of labor to get the job done. If you don't have the labor, you can't do it. So I think people within the company realize that this is important.

We immediately began to provide activities for the men, to keep them occupied off the job. We involved them in a soccer league, and Maui Economic Opportunity was very helpful in providing activities for them. We also started and continue to have English as a Second Language classes.

It's surprising, but there was--prior to bringing this group in--a large Spanish/Mexican community on Maui. I didn't realize that until they knew that other Spanish and Mexican people were coming over, and then they wanted to get involved and socialize, to help with the acculturation process.

Blue skies and palm trees. Homesickness was a problem. Many of the men were married, with children, and most of their families were in Mexico. We had a few--not very many, but a few--who didn't stay the six months. Out of the first 32, I would say we probably had three or four who thought it was just too far from family.

But it's gone very well, so we were able to increase the numbers. We added an additional 32 men in September of last year, and at that point we also brought in about 50 women from the western United States to work in our cannery until December. In March of this year a second group of 30 women came to work in the cannery, and they will stay through the end of December. We had a lot of returnees from the first group--10 of the 30 women we've got right now were here last year and wanted to come back.

It was probably a little bit more of a problem with the women getting adjusted, but once the adjustment was made, they worked out very well. I think, even though we tried to explain and showed a videotape before they came over of exactly what it was going to be like, in a few cases it wasn't what the women expected. They perceived it to be more of blue skies and palm trees, and forgot about the work end of it. But it didn't take them long to get settled in. Many of them had been unemployed because of a shortage of job opportunities in the west, and there was plenty of opportunity to work here.

One of the biggest problems was that many of the women were mothers and wives, and I think some of them got here and just got really homesick for their small children. We had women who had left small babies with mother or father, or with their husband, and that was tough. I would say right off the bat we probably lost about five women who had left small children at home. We reminded them of that this year, so I think we don't have that situation now. We've got women who are maybe a little bit older, without the children to worry about back home.

No special treatment. We have to treat the mainland employees just like we treat anybody else in our company. We advance them oneway airfare and that is reimbursed back to us through payroll deductions. They pay for their housing, they pay for their food, and we pay them a wage equal to the wage we pay to anybody. So it's comparable in cost to hiring workers from Maui. We provide a dormitory facility where we charge rent. But we also have company housing for our other employees.

These programs have been successful for different companies--and for small farmers--when they've provided the things necessary for a worker to have a life. Any company that does this has got to realize that housing is a top priority. When the employer hasn't been willing to provide adequate housing, or adequate cooking facilities, it hasn't worked well. We have a cafeteria in each mainland worker dormitory, and we provide cooks for them. And there is a coordinator who oversees the overall operation, who is not one of our people, but is basically one of theirs, who has a good understanding of their culture and their needs.

A permanent workforce. We want the mainland workers to feel like this is not a migrant-worker job. They can stay with us for as long as they like. They may not do exactly what they have done--there's a very small period of time where we are not canning, and the cannery workers then will have the opportunity to go out in the field and work there for that period of time. For the field workers, if they're not picking pineapple, they're weeding, or they're planting pineapple, so that continues year round. They're welcome to stay as long as they want, and become a permanent part of our organization.

I would think right now we've probably got about five mainland employees who are in homes in the community. a lot of the others are working toward bringing their families over, and are trying to find housing. I know we have some who are single, who have sent for the rest of their belongings to stay here permanently. And we've had at least one marriage.

I would say out of the first group of 32 men, we have the possibility of at least six permanent employees, and that's really good for us. The program has gone very well, and that's why we've been able to increase the numbers from an initial 32 to a point where this year we'll have about 150 mainland workers. It's been a fun program, and it works if you handle it right. You have to do your part to make sure it meets the workers' needs as well as the company's needs.
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Title Annotation:Skip McDonnell, employment programs administrator for Maui Pineapple Co., is enthusiastic about mainland worker program
Publication:Hawaii Business
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:1299
Previous Article:A new wave of workers: employees from Mexico and western United States are closing the labor gap at Maui Pineapple Company.
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