Today’s Honolulu Advertiser carried a front-page story by Lynda Arakawa about a new wave of migrant labor coming ashore in Hawai‘i: Hotel workers from the Philippines. And this is happening on the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawai‘i.
Twenty-five workers from the Philippines arrived at Kona International Airport yesterday in what could foreshadow a new mini-wave of immigrant labor to the Islands.
The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii arranged with the U.S. Labor Department to bring up to 45 Filipinos here on seasonal work visas through August to help staff the hotel in the face of the nation’s tightest labor market.
A handful of other hotels have also inquired about the process as they are having trouble filling jobs with the state’s unemployment rate at 2.1 percent [emphasis added].
“We’ve done everything we possibly can (to find workers) here on the Big Island and the state,” said Fairmont Orchid general manager Ian Pullan. “And we just have not been able to fill the number of vacancies that we’ve had.”
The arrival of Filipinos to work in hotels comes on the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawai’i. In 1906 a group of 15 Filipinos was recruited by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association to work at the Ola’a Plantation on the Big Island.
The government approved Fairmont’s plan when it determined there was a shortage of American workers for the hotel jobs and that the immigrants would have adequate housing.
The Fairmont is bringing over Filipino workers who are relatives of hotel employees with whom they can stay, Pullan said. He said 25 workers arrived in Kona yesterday, and the hotel is interviewing candidates in the Philippines for 20 more positions. The 45 positions include housekeepers, kitchen helpers, cooks and dining room attendants.
The seasonal work visas expire Aug. 15, but Fairmont may reapply to extend their stay.
This is the first case of seasonal work visas for a Hawai’i hotel, said James Hardway, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations….
Seasonal work visas are usually given for white-collar jobs such as teachers, doctors or in the technology sector but have also been given for agricultural workers, Hardway said.
The immigrant workers will be given the same wages and benefits as current employees in the same positions. That ranges from about $13 to $18 an hour for the non-tipped workers, said Wallace Ishibashi Jr., a union representative.
The ILWU Local 142, which represents employees at the Fairmont Orchid, has worked with the hotel on the seasonal work visa program and supports it, Ishibashi said. One of the union’s concerns is making sure local workers have job opportunities, but the state’s low unemployment rate has made it difficult to recruit despite the hotels’ best efforts, he said.
“It’s not that we’re not trying to hire local people,” Ishibashi said, adding that drug test failures are another stumbling block.