The former head of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, who resigned from his post in August after being on paid leave for two months, has resurfaced at another state agency.
Scott Murakami, who earned $154,812 annually at the helm of DLIR, resigned from that post Aug. 5 after being on paid leave from June 1.
Murakami is now serving as economic development coordinator for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. His annual salary is now $122,400.
DBEDT spokeswoman Charlene Chan said in a statement, “Scott is working with the DBEDT team to coordinate activities that identify promising economic opportunities to rebalance Hawaii’s GDP and strengthen the state’s economy. His background and experience along with information from the Research and Economic Analysis Division will provide the development of these new opportunities in non-tourism industries.”
Murakami was running DLIR when the coronavirus pandemic led to the shutdown of Hawaii’s tourism economy and more than a quarter of the state’s workforce being unemployed. An antiquated computer system hamstrung the department and forced some unemployment claimants into a frustrating filing process, with many waiting months for financial relief.
Murakami told a state House committee in July that his employees were receiving death threats because of issues with filing claims. There were calls from frustrated community members to fire Murakami, but Gov. David Ige stood by him and said that he did not ask his DLIR head to resign.
Ige said in a statement in August, “Scott was under a tremendous amount of stress and I felt that he deserved some time off. He has decided to resign from his position, and I respect that. I thank Scott for his service, and I wish him the best.”
Prior to joining Ige’s administration as DLIR head in January 2019, Murakami held a variety of jobs at the University of Hawaii, including as director of workforce development in the Office of the Vice President for Community Colleges. He’s also been affiliated with the the state Rehabilitation Council, the board of directors of the Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii and the Workforce Development Council.
Ige said in a statement when Murakami was hired to lead DLIR that he was “counting on Scott’s understanding of economic drivers and his experience in workforce development to help re-shape the way employees are prepared for success in an innovative, technology-based economy. In addition, he knows how important labor/management partnerships are in meeting this mission.”
Before the new coronavirus, Hawaii had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, below 3%. The rate shot up to a record 23.8% in April, the third highest among states.
The beleaguered DLIR sought to ease the logjam of unemployment claims by bringing in hundreds of state volunteers to process applications at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. It also made improvements to its online portals and call centers.
In May, Hawaii’s unemployment rate dropped slightly to 23.5%. However, by June it had fallen over 10 percentage points to 13.4%.
By July, Hawaii’s unemployment rate had dipped to 13.1% after falling for the third straight month. But the results were somewhat deceiving because there were nearly 30,000 fewer people in the labor force than a year ago, which made the unemployment rate look better than it probably was.
Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.2% in July, down from 11.1% in June.
Anne E. Perreira-Eustaquio is now DLIR’s acting director. She had served as DLIR’s deputy director since Oct. 1.