Even though visitor accommodations were suspended last year at the Four Seasons’ Lodge at Koele, and half of the Manele Bay Hotel was closed for renovations, the island’s unemployment rate dropped from 4.3 percent in December 2013 to 2.3 percent, the lowest in the state, in December 2014, according to state Department of Labor statistics.
In explaining how the island’s hotel and development company employees have remained on the job despite the renovation work, Kurt Matsumoto, chief operating officer of Pulama Lana‘i, owner Larry Ellison’s management organization, said that Four Seasons Resort managers had reassigned Koele resort workers to other duties, some of which include community service projects.
"They’re doing their best to keep them whole," Matsumoto said of Four Seasons management and its approach to employees represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Ellison bought 98 percent of Lanai from David H. Murdock and Castle & Cooke in June 2012 and launched a makeover of the Manele hotel more than a year later.
Renovation work has been completed on one half of the hotel, which has reopened to guests, and "now we’re shifting the renovation over to the other side of the hotel," Matsumoto said Thursday.
At Koele the resort hasn’t exactly shut down, because the hotel is being used as a dormitory for construction workers doing renovation work at Manele, he said.
"We’re just suspending operations to the public," he told The Maui News. "There are still people working at Koele. There’s people still taking care of the building, doing landscaping, doing housekeeping work."
About 70 Koele employees have been reassigned elsewhere, he said.
"We’ve been working with the Four Seasons and the ILWU," he said, "and the Four Seasons has managed to absorb some of the workforce at Manele. So they’ve had open positions, and they’ve been able to fill those open positions with some people from Koele."
Some Koele employees have been assigned to other Four Seasons resorts around the world, Matsumoto said.
"So, it’s great experience, a great training opportunity, and they can bring knowledge back after they serve some time off-island," he said. "And the rest of the people, what we’ve managed to do is put them in various parts of our (Pulama Lana‘i) operation or put them into a position where they can do … let’s call it paid volunteering time."
Matsumoto said examples of that include about a dozen Koele employees working at Lanai Elementary and High School.
"They’re in various roles that the school has decided to assign to them," he said. "Some are teachers’ aides. Some are working on building a school garden."
And other employees have been doing conservation and preservation work on the island, he said.
All this is being done while the employees are paid what they would have earned if they remained at the resort, he said.
Lanai businesswoman Gail Allen, a 15-year resident who lives near the Koele golf course, said that keeping hotel employees working and earning paychecks has helped businesses in town.