Maui News

158 protective long-sleeve shirts collected for Maui farmworkers

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MEO National Farmworker Jobs Program staffer Uilani Ah Chan (left) accepts a long-sleeve shirt donation at the Hispanic Resource Fair on March 26 at MEO in Wailuku. Photo Courtesy: MEO

Maui Economic Opportunity collected 158 shirts during the National Long-Sleeve Shirt Drive, aimed at protecting farmworkers from pesticides and heat in the fields.

MEO works with farmworkers and farms statewide through the National Farmworker Jobs Program, offering clothing, job training and employment. The long-sleeve shirt drive from March 26 to April 2 was part of National Farmworker Awareness Week; and it coincided with the visit of the Mexican Consulate to Maui.

The drive also brought attention to occupational hazards in the fields.

With a long history of supporting farmworkers, MEO is the Hawaiʻi grantee for the federal National Farmworkers Job Program. It is the only statewide program MEO administers. More than 2,500 migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and their families, have been assisted by the job program.

In March 1975, MEO launched the “Seasonally Employed Farmworkers Program” with 18 participants during the vibrant days of the sugar and pineapple industries on Maui. Farmworker programs have had different names through the years – Job Training Partnership Act Seasonally Employed Farmworkers Program, and Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers program.

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Through the 1980s, MEO assisted about 200 Filipino farmworkers each year with education and medical assistance, child care, English as a Second Language and job placement, resulting in higher wages and benefits.

MEO collected 158 long-sleeve shirts to protect farmworkers from pesticides and the heat. Photo Courtesy: MEO
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A shortage of field workers in the 1990s developed with the pull of the visitor industry, leading Maui Pineapple Co., Wailuku Agribusiness and independent farmers to bring in migrant and seasonal farmworkers through the Rocky Mountain High Coalition in a partnership administered by MEO.

The program assisted migrants by placing them in jobs in the fields, canneries and machine shops and helping them obtain Commercial Driver Licenses and heavy equipment operator and welding certifications.  Migrants were provided dormitory-style housing by Maui Pineapple, and MEO staff assisted with permanent housing, education, industry certifications, child care, ESL and citizenship classes and acculturation. With MEO’s assistance, many of the migrants became citizens. 

Today, more than 10% of Maui’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino and many of them have ties to the migrant workers brought to Maui from Mexico. 

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For more information about National Farmworker Jobs Program, call 808-243-4369 or go to the MEO’s website at www.meoinc.org.

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