Thursday, February 11, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Bill protects
workers when
business sold

But opponents say the
proposal hurts Hawaii's efforts
to improve the economy

Legislature Directory

By Pat Omandam


Carol Mau never imagined the level of stress she would experience as she waited to be rehired at the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui after it was sold in November.

Could she pay her bills? Enroll her 20-year-old son in a mainland culinary school? Pay for medical insurance?

"My spirit sunk to a depth it never had before," she said.

Mau told lawmakers no Hawaii worker should go through the confusion and helplessness that she experienced. An operator for the resort for the past 111/2 years, she found out in December she would not be rehired.

Mau, who is still unemployed, testified in favor of a House bill that requires successive owners of businesses to retain current staff as much as possible.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature House Bill 944, introduced by state Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City), would apply to any business that employs more than 20 people. It requires the employer to notify the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations at least 90 days before selling the business, as well as explain any layoffs that occur because of the divestiture.

The measure, heard before the House Labor Committee earlier this week, states if downsizing is needed, the new owner must keep incumbent employees based on their length of service at the business and job classifications. Those not retained would be placed on a preferential rehiring list.

After the hearing, committee Chairwoman Terry Nui Yoshinaga, (D, Moiliili) said she's waiting to hear from state labor officials, who have concerns about the measure, including the minimum number of employees needed to qualify under the proposal.

Yoshinaga said she expects a committee vote on HB 944 next week.

Opponents said the bill would hurt business.

State Rep. Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona) said if an employer hires all the same employees it would be impossible to change the product and improve the company. He sees the measure hindering efforts to rejuvenate and expand business in Hawaii.

"If it (company) was working so well, the original owner wouldn't have sold it," Rath said.

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii opposed the bill because it intrudes on the rights of purchasers to select employees.

Also, the measure doesn't distinguish between rank and supervisor/managerial employees and doesn't recognize that owners may dramatically change the nature of the business and the type of goods and services provided, the chamber argued.

Maile V.O. Romanowski, vice president of Jas. W. Glover, a general contractor, added the measure is unrealistic and impractical, and will create an unfair burden on employers in the state.

Romanowski said the measure would jeopardize productivity and employees' livelihoods, and add more regulation to Hawaii's business environment.

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