158 long-sleeved protective shirts collected for Maui farm workers

Uilani Ah Chan (left), a staff member of MOE’s National Farmworker Jobs Program, accepts a donation of a long-sleeved shirt during the Hispanic Resource Fair March 26 at MOE in Wailuku. Photo courtesy: MEO

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

MEO works with farm workers and farms across the state through the National Farm Worker Jobs Program, providing clothing, job training and jobs. The collection of long-sleeved shirts 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 campaign also drew attention to occupational hazards in the fields.

With a long history of supporting farmworkers, MEO is Hawaii’s recipient of the Federal National Farmworker Employment Program. It is the only statewide program that MEO administers. More than 2,500 migrant and seasonal agricultural workers and their families have been assisted by the employment programme.

In March 1975, MEO launched the “Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program” with 18 participants during the vibrant days of the sugar and pineapple industries in Maui. The programs for agricultural workers have had different names over the years – The Vocational Training Partnership Act Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

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During the 1980s, MEO assisted approximately 200 Filipino farm workers each year with education and medical assistance, child care, English as a second language and job placement, resulting in increased wages and advantages.

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

The program has helped migrants by placing them in jobs in the fields, canneries and machine shops and helping them obtain commercial driver’s licenses and heavy equipment and welding operator certifications. Migrants were given dormitory-style housing by Maui Pineapple, and MOE staff assisted with permanent housing, education, industry certifications, child care, ESL classes and of citizenship and acculturation. With the help of MEO, many migrants have become citizens.

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

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For more information on the National Farmworker Jobs Program, call 808-243-4369 or visit the MOE website at www.meoinc.org.

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