Farewell to the Ranch

Longtime Molokai Ranch employee resigns after 27 years.

By Léo Azambuja

Most people would agree that it is not always easy to find a steady job on Molokai.  So why would anyone in their right mind walk out on a career after 27 years, just one year short of retirement? Clarence Loo had just the right answer.

“Enough is enough,” Loo said. Upset by the La`au Point controversy that split the community, and pressured by Molokai Ranch to gather support for their planned development, Loo did the unthinkable. He resigned.

“Some of my managers told me I had to support the Plan,” Loo said. “I’m not backing anybody.”

Getting into the political realm of business is hardly in the job description of someone who was hired as a welder.

After over a decade of dissatisfaction with the Ranch’s ownership, Loo felt he was finally pushed too far. “It broke me down,” the longtime Ranch employee said.

Loo was asked to gather support, in the form of signatures, from local vendors – independent businesses which supply the Ranch with products and services. According to Loo, a majority of his vendors were either undecided or against the La`au Point development. He said that it just wasn’t right for Ranch managers to expect their workers to coax support from community members. “You cannot do that on Molokai,” he said.

Loo said he was tired of seeing the community split, and did not want to add to the problem. “We are fighting each other,” he said. “This is not Molokai style.”

Despite the radical decision to quit his job, Loo remains upbeat. “I’m happy,” he said. “I can find a job anywhere I like.”

But “anywhere” to Loo includes the island of Maui. He says he has a lot of friends on Maui and enough qualifications to land a good job there. His two sons are already working across the Pailolo Channel and Loo says he wouldn’t mind getting closer to them.

While things may work out just fine for Loo, it’s always unfortunate to see Molokai natives forced to look for jobs outside the island.

Loo says that since Brierley, Intl. took ownership of the Ranch, 12 years ago, the owner-employee relationship has gone downhill. He says the company fires and hires workers according to its needs, and without regard for time and value of service provided in the past.

Pilipo Solatario is the cultural advisor at the Ranch. He teaches visitors about Molokai cultural practices. Over the past years, the “top notch” associates who have helped Solatario create the basis of his work were laid off by the Ranch.

When the Ranch realized its mistake and asked Solatario to get his team back, it was already too late. Solatario said the Ranch “goofed.” The kupuna, who works at the Ranch for almost as long as Loo did, said the company should have kept its employees. “Till today I’m still alone.”

But the Ranch used to be a much different company. Family members of employees would come in after work, and the families would head to the beach.  

“It was aloha spirit,” Solatario said. “It was a family thing.” The company took care of their workers explained Solatario.

“Your family could come to work with you,” Loo said. “Our families got close to each other.” Everyone was happy to work for Molokai Ranch.

“The reality is not about money,” Loo said. He explained that the pay might have been low in those days, but everyone felt like they belonged to one big family.

But those days are gone. Since Brierley took over the company, much has changed. The level of dissatisfaction among employees is at its peak according to Loo. But he said many workers are fearful of speaking out and losing their jobs.

Solatario agreed that dissatisfaction is wide-spread among Ranch employees. “We’re not the only ones, others feels the same.”

How did the employees go from cherishing a family-oriented company to feeling this way? “There’s nothing really bad to say about Molokai Ranch,” Loo said. “It’s the guys who bought it.”

The Ranch has continuously made promises that the company’s responsibility is to their employees – the “Molokai Ranch family,” as Ranch CEO Peter Nicholas put it in a letter published at a local newspaper last July.

In the same article, Nicholas said Ranch workers would not want to be employed by an organization which lacked strong for-profit business experience, or that had a long-standing distrust of its people.

If so, Nicholas’ words may backfire. Not only is distrust rampant among employees, according to Loo, but the values which Nicholas claims for the Ranch go against the ones Solatario describes as important to Molokai.

“Molokai has a different sense of place,” Solatario said. “This place is about the aina, not about the kala (money).”

Loo thinks Molokai is just too small and close for its residents to harbor ill-feelings. “Everybody is family,” Loo said. “Everybody knows each other.”

Loo said he would never backstab John Sabas or Walter Ritte. “Collette (Machado) is a good family-friend too.” They all have known each other from a young age. “Their theory and my theory are different,” Loo said. But he hopes one day everyone could get along and respect each others’ point of view.

Last week Solatario participated in a march to La`au Point. His actions could go beyond demonstrating opposition to the proposed development.

As one of the most respected kupuna at the Ranch, this action could help bring unity to Molokai. When Solatario speaks, others listen. “I do my job if I feel it’s pono,” he said. “If I feel it’s not pono I’ll not do it, simple as that.”

Solatario said he tries to have an open dialogue with the Ranch, but there is a cultural barrier that gets in the way.

“How can you understand Hawaiians if you don’t live here?” Solatario asked. “Even if you live our lifestyle, we went through it from generations to generations.”

Hawaiians learned their traditions from their kupuna, and are trying to fit these same traditions into modern times, according to Solatario. “Some fit, some don’t.”

“If you don’t agree, respect it,” Solatario said. “We can still work together.”

Loo said if the Ranch had a better relationship with its workers, things would be different. “The employees would be right there with the Ranch.”

Not all is lost for the Ranch. Solatario has simple advice for the Ranch owners. “They have got to listen to the employees for a change.”


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