Hawaii: The End of Sugar

On a 17 December 2016 article, the Hawaii Public Radio described some of the last deliveries of sugar cane to the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) 1901-built Pu‘unene Mill in Maui, the very last of the Hawaii’s sugar mills in operation. It added: “Cheers break out from the hundreds of workers standing nearby.”[1] It reminded the writer of the closing of the sugar sector in St Kitts in 2010.[2]

For more than a century, Hawaii had depended on the growing and processing of sugar cane, which have also shaped the diverse ethnic configuration of the archipelago (Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu islands) because of the influx of workers from countries like the Philippines Japan, Korea and China, and smaller numbers from Portugal, Puerto Rico, Scotland and Germany. The Hawaii state governor says his ancestors came from Japan to work in sugar.

Several causes produced the decline of Hawaiian sugar over decades: from changes in the US sugar policies to increasing costs and competition for resources to major changes in the international sugar scenario; all of which – plus others – produced a string of losses to the sugar companies, which accelerated their disappearing in the 1980s and 1990s.

Statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that sugar cane growing in the islands covered some 100,000 acres in 1981, the area decreased to an average of 17,400 acres in the 2010-2016 period, and with the closing of HC&S mill in Maui last December, commercial cane growing is over. Hawaii’s sugar production averaged about one million tonnes in the first half of the 1980s, then dropped to about 160,000 tonnes after 2010.

HC&S said in January 2016 that the mill closure will affect 675 employees, most of them – if not all – represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 142, the state-wide union organisation in Hawaii. The union is supporting workers in their transitioning to new jobs and in dealing with the hardships they face.[3]

The ILWU-142 gathered information on the workers’ needs to allow planning and to help them deciding on the allocation of resources provided by the company and the different levels of government (federal, state and county). The ILWU-HC&S contract stipulates an “effects bargaining” to mitigate, as far as it is possible, the impact of the mill’s closure on the workers. Issues to be dealt, among others, include severance payments, payment of unused vacation and sick leave, seniority, retirement benefits, and medical and dental insurance.

On severance payments, the ILWU contract stipulates a nine-day pay for each year of service for all eligible workers, an amount the union wants to improve, and that monies should be timely paid. It was said that workers in some companies have waited up to 14 months after ending operations to receive their severance. Equally important, the union aims at extending the period for laid-off workers under which to enjoy medical coverage.

In mid-December, the Maku Pahu ship transported the last sugar cargo from HC&S to the California & Hawaiian Sugar Company (C&H) refinery on the San Francisco Bay, California. The ship was sent-off with a 21-gun salute, with many people waving from the docks and drivers “blaring their horns,” as the ship captain writes on a message to “Everybody.”[4]

Alexander & Baldwin, owner of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S), plans to move into diversified agriculture and cattle pasture – among other activities, which will cover a 36,000-acre plantation on Maui, where the mill is located.


[1] The Final Days Of Hawaiian Sugar at http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/17/505861855/the-final-days-of-hawaiian-sugar

[2] “On 22 July, two locomotives brought the last canes for processing at the St. Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Corporation (SSMC) factory, and so signalled the closing of the island’s 300-year old sugar industry.” Sugar Industry St Kitts Closes at http://www.sknweb.com/2010/05/sugar-industry-in-stkitts-closes/

[3] “HC&S sugar plantation in Hawaii to close” at https://www.ilwu.org/hcs-sugar-plantation-in-hawaii-to-close/ . The ILWU-142 has a 18,000-membership in several sectors, including agriculture, longshore, tourism and general trades.

[4] Hawaii’s Final Sugar Cargo Departs Maui Aboard ‘Maku Pahu’ at http://gcaptain.com/final-sugar-cargo-departs-maui-aboard-maku-pahu/

Permanent link to this article: http://www.iuf.org/sugarworkers/hawaii-end-sugar/


    • Miriam Wanyama on February 7, 2017 at 8:14 am

    How do workers plan for such eventualities.It leaves me scared! Unions should be doing cane census to establish cane status and availability so that workers are not got off guard.For example in Nzoia Sugar Company, Union officials accompany management while taking the cane statistics. This enables them prepare workers in advance otherwise with mushrooming of sugar factories raw material is an issue. To be ignorat of such facts is like sitting on a time bomb.

    • Jorge on February 21, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Alexander & Baldwin sold more than 330 acres (133.5 hectares) of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. to EC Paia LLC last December, when the plantation closed. The former agricultural land, it is said, can be used for commercial and residential purposes. A&B said that the sale will not affect negatively their plans for a “diversified agriculture” which was announced when the mill was closed.

    Read: “Californian acquires Hawaii sugar plantation land for $10M” at http://www.chicoer.com/business/20170209/californian-acquires-hawaii-sugar-plantation-land-for-10m

Comments have been disabled.