[ HAWAII AT WORK ]
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Alvis Satele helps the wheels of commerce in Hawaii turn smoothly as a machine operator for McCabe, Hamilton & Renny Co. Satele stacked 40-foot containers at the harbor using a loader. CLICK FOR LARGE
Isle port worker helps keep the goods flowing
Former NFL player Alvis Satele works as a machine operator for Hawaii's oldest stevedoring company
ALVIS SATELE is proof that you can't keep a good man down for long. The former University of Hawaii linebacker returned to Hawaii from the mainland almost 20 years ago on a Friday after being cut by the National Football League's San Diego Chargers because of an injury, felt sorry for himself a bit over the weekend, then started as an ironworker the next Monday, going on to help build the HPOWER plant in Kapolei.
Who: Alvis Satele|
Title: Machine operator
Job: Operates heavy machinery at isle harbors to move goods on and off ships and barges
A few years later, when he was laid off as an ironworker, he similarly quickly landed on his feet, this time as a laborer for Hawaii's oldest and largest general stevedoring company, McCabe, Hamilton & Renny Co.
, which before long promoted him to machine operator.
At UH, Satele studied sociology. It's also where the Castle High School graduate met his future wife, then Lee Ann Pestana, a UH volleyball star who now is the volleyball coach at Word of Life Academy.
"That's what I tell my kids, that they're champions because of my wife," he said last week.
Satele -- who after UH was a free agent with the NFL's Washington Redskins, and who also played three years in the Canadian Football League -- names many people who helped him along the way, including brother-in-law James Pestana and George Paris of the Ironworkers Union, for helping him get the ironworker job; and Mel Suganuma of the Plumbers Union, who helped him get the stevedoring job. He also thanks Pastors Art and Kuna at Word of Life Academy "for blessing my family." Two of his four sons, Brashton and Landon, graduated from Word of Life, and his daughter, Chanteal, will be a senior there this fall.
His other sons are Everett, the oldest at 25, and Alvis Jr.
Lee Ann Satele noted that Brashton now plays linebacker for UH, Alvis Jr. ("A.J.") plays baseball for UH Hilo, Landon is going to Lambuth University in Tennessee to be a fullback, and Chanteal was Interscholastic League of Honolulu 2006 Division II Player of the Year in volleyball.
Everett is a dockworker for the military at Pearl Harbor.
And, yes, Satele, 44, is related to UH center Samson Satele, who was drafted in April by the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
"Samson is Alvis' nephew ... The whole family is very proud of him," said Lee Ann.
Satele also is first cousins with UH football players Hercules Satele and Amani Purcell, and of Mel Purcell, who was drafted out of UH in April by the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Mark Coleman: So your name is Elvis Presley?
Alvis Satele: (Laughter). No.
Q: What is your job title?
A: I'm a machine operator.
Q: What are your job responsibilities each day?
A: It varies from job to job. We drive forklifts that are different weights -- the tonnage of the forklifts. And then we drive payloaders -- all different kinds of machines. We handle everything.
Q: How long have you worked for McCabe, Hamilton & Renny Co.?
A: Seventeen years.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Machine operators like Alvis Satele of McCabe, Hamilton & Renny Co. help keep the wheels of commerce turning at Hawaii's ports. Satele climbs aboard a big forklift. CLICK FOR LARGE
What were you doing before that?
A: Actually I was working as an ironworker before I got the job at McCabe. And I want to thank George Paris for hiring me at the Ironworkers (union).
Q: Who was he?
A: He was the union rep for the Ironworkers. We worked at HPOWER when I was working there. We built that. That year I think was in '89.
Q: How did you get the machine operator job?
A: I tell you how I got the job. Every morning that I used to go to work for the ironworkers, there was this old man who said, "Good morning." I didn't know who he was, but we kept crossing paths, and one day he said McCabe was hiring, so I went down there and (eventually) there were thousands of guys in line, but I was No. 24. The guy's name was Mel Suganuma; he was head of the Plumbers Union.
Why do you think he was so nice to you?
A: You know, I really can't explain it, but you gotta be nice to people, you know what I mean? We became really good friends, and I want to thank him for the job, and if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have the job at McCabe. He gave me the opportunity.
Q: So you got the job.
A: Yes. There was an interview, a written exam, we had to do all kind of stuff. We drive those truck-tractor cabs, as machine operators.
What were you doing before the ironworker job?
A: I was with the San Diego Chargers. I got cut. I also played three years in Canada -- two years in Calgary and one year in Vancouver. My first job out of college was as a free agent with the Redskins.
Q: How long were you with the Chargers?
A: I got hurt in one of the preseason games, against the Rams. I cracked my shoulder blades, then just before the regular season, they released me. But I had a good time up there, a good experience.
So I came back on a Friday, moped around on the weekend, then went to work on Monday, and I want to thank my brother-in-law James (Pestana) for hooking me up with the Ironworkers. He had been there for years before I was looking for a job.
Q: How did you learn to be a machine operator?
A: When I got hired at McCabe, I was a laborer. You start at the bottom. And in maybe two, three years, I was running a gang, I was a foreman for one of the gangs.
Q: They call them gangs, huh?
A: Yeah, we call 'em gangs. They're all numbered, like 24, 26 -- I had 26.
Q: How many guys in a gang?
A: We had 13. Five laborers (each) in B and C, and then the A gang is considered the talent, and they have the foreman and two winchmen. We used to have five gangs per shift -- five in the day and five at night. I think they got six now.
Q: What do these guys do?
A: They work shifts, loading and unloading the ships and barges.
Q: When did you start working the machinery?
A: Maybe after about two years, maybe less. I got promoted to machine operator. I had to go stand in line again.
Q: It was like an opening?
A: Yes. So then you go apply again.
Q: What kinds of products do you move around at the dock?
A: Automobiles, lumber. We move coal with the payloader. We go into the holds of the ship and clean the hold with the payloader. And then for the lumber, most of the machines, the forklifts, are like 17 to 30 tons.
Q: Does your work include interisland shipments?
A: Yes, it does. Sometimes we get call-outs to go to Maui or Kauai or the Big Island.
Q: How long are you gone for when that happens?
A: When we first started, it was two or three days, but now we fly in the morning and come back the next day.
Q: How many other people do you work with and what kinds of things do they do?
A: We got 13 machine operators right now on day shift, and 13 on the night shift. That's just machine operators, and when you're talking about the gangs, I think we have six per shift, and then they have six in that gang.
What are your days and hours of work?
A: The hours vary. Night shift we go from 6 at night to 5 in the morning. Sometimes we start at 11:30 (at night), and seven hours straight we work.
Q: Is it easier to work at night?
A: I like to work at night because it's nice and cool, and you don't deal with the traffic.
But the day shift I really love because I get to spend some time with my kids and my wife.
But actually, the guys I work with are like my second family because I see them almost more than my family at home. But I think my kids understand.
Q: And your wife, too?
A: My wife and my daughter. I get two bosses at home. (Laughter) My wife and my daughter.
Q: How do you deal with the different kinds of weather -- rain, heavy winds or whatever?
A: That's when you have to be cautious of every little thing, because when you're lifting a load, you have to worry about the shifting of weight. We have to make sure we don't drop anything.
So it's not an easy job, but everything that we do, I go with feel, and a lot of experience from the old-timers that they gave me. I learned a lot from the old-timers.
Q: What kind of safety training do they put you through?
A: We go through a lot of safety issues of the machines, how to operate them. You have to pass a test before you can operate any machine.
Q: What's your favorite machine to operate?
A: I think they're all my favorites, because every day I go to work I learn something different. It's not the same.
Q: Is there one that's hardest to operate?
A: Not really.
Q: Whom do you report to?
A: To our supervisor. Every day we have a different supervisor.
Q: How does that work?
A: We check in. Like in the morning, if we start at 7, we get in at 6:30 and check in.
Q: Do you get instructions for what you're going to be working on each day?
A: Yeah. Every day is a new assignment.
Q: Is there a time of the year that's busier than other times?
A: I would say before Christmas.
Q: Do they put more people on?
A: Yeah, but they don't add any more machine operators. There's a supplement list that they go through.
Q: So how long you think you can keep this up?
A: Well, the company has been around a hundred years, and I hope they'll be around a lot longer. It's a good job and I appreciate them hiring me. I'm fortunate to have a job like this.