Hawaii's last sugar plantation workers can get federal help

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

HONOLULU (AP) — Workers left without a job when the state's last sugar plantation closes this year will be able to get financial help.

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co. employees who lose their jobs will be able to get money through a federal program to help replace lost wages, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, announced Monday.

About 675 Maui residents work for Hawaii's last sugar plantation, which plans to end sugar operations by the end of 2016. Under the federal program, workers could receive up to $2,000 a month for a year while they're retrained for a new job. That's in addition to state benefits and job training.

"This is good news for the workers and for Maui," said Schatz, adding that the funding will also help pay for tuition, books and transportation to learn a new job.

The federal money comes from the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps U.S. workers who have lost their jobs because of the negative effects of foreign trade. Maui sugar plantation workers are eligible for the program because the U.S. International Trade Commission said that dumping sugar from Mexico into U.S. markets hurt the U.S.' sugar industry.

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co., a division of Alexander & Baldwin, was named as one of the businesses that were harmed, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Stanley Kuriyama, executive chairman of Alexander & Baldwin, said recently that the company expects a $30 million operating loss in its agricultural business for 2015.

The company has been growing sugar for over 140 years, but it plans to switch gears and pursue diversified agriculture for its 36,000 acres currently in use. The company plans to split the land up into smaller farms to be used to grow food, energy crops and grazing land for cattle.