More than 660 Hawaii airport workers will be permanently laid off Thursday, the same day that the state is reopening to tourism with the launch of a pre-travel testing program after numerous delays, according to union representative UNITE HERE Local 5.
The employees work for HMSHost, an airport subcontractor that manages concessions, bars, and restaurants, including Starbucks, along with the pantry and maintenance at the airports in Honolulu, Kahului and Lihue.
According to Local 5, the state is allowing HMSHost to permanently lay off nearly 85% of its workforce totaling about 780 at these three airports in Hawaii. HMSHost is laying off about 470 out of 550 workers in Honolulu, 140 out of 170 workers in Kahului, and 52 out of 60 workers in Lihue, the union said.
“UNITE HERE Local 5 condemns the layoffs and calls out the State and hospitality industry leaders for claiming they want to reopen tourism to bring jobs back, yet allowing for mass permanent layoffs at the state airports to happen,” said the union in the news release.
In August, HMSHost had issued WARN notices to employees at the Honolulu, Kahului and Lihue airports, saying that it had begun furloughing employees in March due to the unprecedented decline in airport traffic resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that those furloughs would be converted to permanent layoffs on Thursday if employees have not been recalled by then.
“We get it,” said Local 5 spokeswoman Paola Rodelas, regarding the dramatic drop in visitors. “At the same time it doesn’t cost them anything to keep workers temporarily furloughed, and then call them back on an as-needed basis. Permanently laying them off adds chaos and uncertainty for our members.”
Rodelas added that the furloughed workers had not been provided with health coverage since June, and that Local 5 had been helping them get coverage during the interim.
“In the 22 years that I have worked for HMSHost, I have never felt so disregarded as a human being, said Jeanine Ng, a server at Honolulu airport’s The Local, in a statement. “After putting almost all of my adult life into this company, they are laying us off even though it doesn’t cost them anything to keep us on and call us back in as business increases.”
Laurie Ann Javierto, a cashier at the Old Plantation in Kahului Airport for 33 years, was upset that HMSHost cut off her medical coverage in June.
“I’ve had to pay out of pocket for my medication that I need to live,” she said in a statement. “And now as tourism is supposed to be reopening, they are permanently laying us off and throwing us into more uncertainty for no good reason.”
HMSHost, reached via its Maryland headquarters phone number and customer service line, did not immediately return calls for comment.
In its WARN notices, HMSHost said it had hoped to bring workers back over the summer, but that the reality is that it is “going to take a significant period for our business to recover.”
Local 5 said, however, that in August it also released a nationwide report on government handouts that HMSHost has received since the onset of COVID-19, and that the company was on track to receive $475 million in the form of rent relief and other help.
“Despite the massive aid that local governments have provided to HMSHost, the company is still moving forward with mass permanent layoffs,” said the union.
The union said it will continue to help its members and push the state and industry leaders to “get it right the first time” and reopen tourism so that workers can get back to work safely.