Uncertain Future for Del Monte Workers

(KHNL)  Once it seemed the Kunia pineapple fields stretched forever, but those days are gone.

Citing high production costs and the lack of a lease extension, Del Monte announced plans Wednesday to shut down all its pineapple operations on Oahu.

"We knew sooner or later was going close down, everybody knew it already," said Kunia resident Kenneth Innis.

Innis' parents moved to the Kunia plantation camp 17 years ago. He's never known another home, but that may soon change.

"Kind of a punch to the stomach," said Bob Bevacqua, a former Del Monte superintendent. "It was something that many of them might come and they dreaded it."

Wally Calizo's father has worked the plantation as long as he can remember.

"Shocked, we don't know what's going to happen. It's their call really, they do whatever they want," Calizo said.

For generations, workers raised families in the plantation camp. Now they may lose their homes. "As people lose their jobs, they'll be evicted, thrown out on the street and they really have no where else to go," Bevacqua said.

By the time plantation shuts down at the end of 2008, more than 700 workers will have lost their jobs. For many it's more than just a place to work, it's home.

Campbell Estate owns the land the plantation sits on. A spokeswoman for the estate said it is working with both del monte and ILWU Local 142 to find ways to help employees in danger of losing their homes.

"The people here are exceptionally hard working," Bevacqua said. "They have the American dream to work, to advance, to put their children ahead of them."

For now, plantation families can only guess at their future.

"Hard to say, right now it's just wait and see," Calizo said. "We don't really know what's going to happen."