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Taking temporary layoffs in stride

PRINCEVILLE — For Princeville Resort bartender Mia Pauletto, the hotel’s impending seven-month closure for major renovations is a welcome respite from decades of hard work.

Working full time for more than 20 years, the 43-year-old said the temporary layoffs that will affect about 360 of her fellow workers would be a scarier prospect were it not for the promise of continuous medical benefits and a return to her current position and seniority after the reopen.

Both measures were negotiated in the resort’s first union contract late last month, and they seem to have appeased worries for many. In addition, most of the laid-off staff will be eligible for unemployment, which can make up for about half of a lost paycheck in some cases.

Pauletto said it’s easier to focus on the resort’s mid-2009 reopen now that she and others are not as preoccupied with the transition.

“Knowing that I have my job back is a sign that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said yesterday at an onsite job fair primarily for affected Princeville workers.

The event, organized by the Kaua‘i Workforce Investment Board and WorkWise!, was attended by about 100 people, including some from the general job-seeking public and some laid-off Hanalei Bay Resort employees.

Roughly 20 employers showed up to promote openings, including three resorts.

But for many of the uniformed hotel staff perusing the options before or after shift changes, there wasn’t a sense of urgency about finding temporary work to supplement lost income.

Neither Rowena Aguinaldo nor Lovella Jimenez, both longtime Princeville workers, said they planned to jump right into another job. Aguinaldo, a housekeeping employee since 1986, said she’s hoping unemployment benefits will suffice for a month or two while she weighs her options.

Both she and Jimenez plan to return to the Princeville Resort, saying it’s their “second home.” And while they have some concerns about the changes ahead, they’re happy to have health insurance during the down time — for themselves and their children.

Jason Dugay, who has worked in the Princeville’s culinary department for two years, also said he’s coming back after the rebranding of the resort as a St. Regis property.

Echoing comments from other Princeville workers, Dugay, dressed in his chef’s jacket, said he was checking out the options yesterday but is planning to take a little break when the resort closes.

Deborah Baker, the Princeville Resort’s human resources director, said the hotel has tried to inform its staff about changes around the corner so they aren’t caught off guard.

“We’re really communicating well with our associates as to what’s available to them,” Baker said.

Yesterday’s visitor industry opportunities included a handful of positions each at Wyndham Vacation Ownership, ResortQuest and Marriott International properties, ranging from entry-level to management.

Marriott hiring staff said it may have fewer employment opportunities this year over last, but there are openings and they are constantly changing.

The fact that many of the event’s attendees have short-term intentions was not a hindrance for Wyndham Human Resources Manager Clarice Inouye, who said she hopes anyone who joins the company will want to stay.

ResortQuest, which posted positions at three of its Kaua‘i properties, had a similar stance. Director of Food and Beverage Amy Christmas said as long as people are upfront about their plans for temporary work, there’s no problem.

“We’re supporting the community whether or not we get any applicants out of it,” Christmas said.

Key on her list of desirable qualities is someone who’s personable, energetic and who has the right approach to learning new tasks, even if they don’t have tons of experience.

One booth receiving a fair share of attention was that of Ohio-based National Content Liquidators Inc., which is tasked with selling all the resort’s current furniture.

At least 20 names filled the company’s sign-up sheet for month-long work opportunities as cashiers ($17 per hour) and labor ($14 per hour).

“When we leave here, this place will be empty,” said manager Patrick Folk of the liquidation.

Of course, not all the attendees were Princeville workers. Some, such as a pair of young surfers, checked the fair out of curiosity. And others, like Lou Michetti, of Kalihiwai, attended for leads on North Shore employment.

A mother of three who’s been self-employed for decades, Michetti said it’s been challenging trying to enter the workplace again in a sluggish economy.

“I’ve applied for three different jobs that have mandatory online applications, and then I wait for a response and get a generic e-mail,” she said.

Event organizer Jan Miyamoto, the county’s Workforce Investment Act administrator, agreed that the majority of Princeville workers are taking the closure in stride. However, she says the reality of making ends meet may hit later on.

“Unemployment doesn’t pay the full earnings, and as time goes on they may be more eager to be active in seeking employment,” Miyamoto said.

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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