Ex-Ranch Employees Get Back to Work

A fifth of laid-off workers have found jobs.

By Jennifer Smith

Months after the devastating closure of Molokai Ranch in April, displaced workers persevere in the face of a tough job market. With over a fifth of the workers with new employment, steady progress continues to be made in the effort to get people back to work.

“So far they’ve been in really good spirits,” said Alberta Patchen, manager for the Kaunakakai Workforce Development Division (WDD). The WDD is one of several government agencies busy trying to assist nearly 60 former Molokai Ranch employees find work.

Of the 98 employees on a list released from Molokai Ranch, 23 are back to work, 8 are still working for the Ranch, 10 haven’t filed unemployment claims, 1 has filed a temporary disability insurance claim, and 1 has filed a workman’s compensation claim.

However, back to work could mean anything from being on call, to relying on a previously obtained second job. The difficulty comes in finding long term positions for the displaced workers.

“The good thing about Molokai Ranch workers is that they have been employed for a while,” Patchen said, explaining that most displaced employees have strong motivations to get back to work. “We’re hopeful.”

Displaced Ranch workers will soon receive additional support from nearly $390,000 in grant money. Hawaii Department of Labor (DOL) received last week, a federal grant to help with re-employment services including skills assessment, individual career counseling and occupational skills training.

The grant is a “helping hand to laid-off Molokai Ranch workers, as they seek new jobs,” said Senator Daniel K. Inouye, in a press release. “Loss of employment, especially due to circumstances beyond your control, is a painful experience.”

The grant is expected to help about 60 displaced workers.

Molokai General Hospital has also completed a grant application asking the Hawaii Medical Services Association (HSMA) Foundation for assistance in paying former Ranch employees’ COBRA medical premiums for six months. The grant would assist employees with, or employees who have family members with chronic illnesses.

Returning to school is also an option for displaced workers who would like to enhance their resumes. The University of Hawaii recently released funds to help former employees of Molokai Ranch, Aloha Airlines, ATA Airlines, NCL America, and the Weyerhaeuser Corporation gain training in the classroom. The fund is effective until June 2009, and provides a one-time only 50% discount to the cost of tuition, up to a maximum of $500 per eligible laid-off employees.

“We are very encouraging to have them go back to school,” Patchen said. “But we realize they still need to keep their finances up.”

Patchen witnessed other historical hits to unemployment on the island such as the exit of Del Monte’s pineapple plantations and the closure of the Kaluakoi hotel, and said the best advice for displaced workers is to keep their spirits up and keep applying for jobs.

Timing can sometimes make the difference in getting a job or not, as application deadlines are often tight. The WDD tries to get the word out about work quickly, and then helps in making sure that applicants follow through. The goal is to get an interview, Patchen said.

In an attempt to make the application process as painless as possible, the WDD’s resource room is open Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Job seekers can visit the office any time and use the computers, copy and fax machines, and receive one-on-one assistance.

The WDD is asking employers who have job openings to please give them a call so that the opening can be listed. For more information call 553-1755.


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