Frustrated employers help furloughed employees

  • Sabrina Bodon / The Garden Island

    Ching Young Village employee Joseph Rita. Rita has been receiving help from Village manager Mike Ching.

  • Sabrina Bodon / The Garden Island

    A closed-down Ching Young Village in Hanalei looks like a ghost town.

  • Sabrina Bodon / The Garden Island

    Garden Island Grille employee Jeric Gonzales helps coworker Rolando Alcaraz Jr. file for unemployment on Gonzales’s phone.

HANALEI — Vanessa Castro was set to move to California in May. Six months pregnant, she planned to move with her young daughter and boyfriend to be closer to family. The coronavirus pandemic changed that.

A furloughed server at Kalypso Island Bar and Grill in Hanalei, she’s not working, and has been struggling to get through to file for unemployment. She said she is nearly through her $2,500 savings, stimulus check and tax return. She logs into the unemployment website every day with no luck.

“It’s a complete standstill,” she said.

Many of her fellow servers, dishwashers and bartenders are in the same boat, and it’s not just Kalypso employees.

Less than a third of unemployment insurance filings have been received since the first week of March in Hawai‘i, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

On the end week ending in March 7, there were 84 initial claims in Kaua‘i. By April 4, there were 4,476 initial claims. At the end of April, there were 5,688 weeks claimed in Kaua‘i and 68,639 across the state.

The state has seen a 1,675.12% increase in unemployment claims since last year, according to WalletHub.

The overloaded unemployment system has created a drastic backlog of employees waiting for checks, and an inundated system that cannot handle the load of people trying to get through. For many, screens show high volume or temporary locked alerts.

Sheri Trentlage owns Garden Island Grille in Koloa, which shut down on March 17. She sent home her employees with the food in the prepped kitchen and some advice.

“We told them to file fast, do it immediately because more people are going to be in the system,” she said.

She has four core employees who are all Filipino, she said. “Some of them have a hard time with English. They’re the ones I’m worried about because they don’t have access to computers at home.”

So Trentlage and her husband get them together every week and help them file.

One of these employees, Napolean Villanova, is disabled and without a car. He has no way to file claims online or a resource to get to food banks. “We stopped by his house to see how he was doing a week ago, and he doesn’t have anything,” Trentlage said.

While Villanova has the help of Trentlage, they still struggle to get into the unemployment system. They recently discovered that Villanova had been on unemployment before and his account is linked to an email address somebody else made for him and he does not have access to it.

“It’s a challenge for me and I understand it,” Trentlage said. “Now for a person that’s at the bottom rung that doesn’t have anything and now doesn’t have any services (phone or cable) because it’s been five weeks he’s losing things.”

Trentlage employs 15 people and checks in with everybody from time to time. One server has lost their home, another is killing wild chickens for food and another is eating bitter weeds in their backyard.

“I understood the first couple of weeks when they say the state was overloaded. But at this point, it’s five weeks, six weeks,” she said. “It’s too long to go without a check.”

What employers see when they log into the unemployment website is a dashboard, Trentlage said. It shows no indication of any processing.

“As an employer, we pay $7,000 give or take a year toward unemployment,” she said. “And for our employees, they look to us as their employer when their paychecks are not there. They look to us for help.”

Flavia Digrazia is the general manager at Kalypso, where Castro worked. She sees the same dashboard as Trentlage and it frustrates her. Digrazia invites her employes to her house or office to try to get onto the unemployment website.

“Sometimes I spend three hours with each password, and I still cannot get in,” she said.

Many of her employees joined the unemployment system back during the 2018 floods, and they have had an easier time getting into the site, but many have yet to get all the unemployment they’ve filed for.

Weekly benefits can be expected in 15 days, the Department of Labor said, but time can be extended if there are mistakes in applications. Unemployed workers can backdate their claims by emailing dlir.ui.backdate@hawaii.gov, but many have reported not getting through on the website.

Jeric Gonzales, who works at Garden Island Grille, has started receiving unemployment about a month after he was furloughed.

On the days they get together in Koloa, Gonzales lets coworker Rolando Alcaraz Jr. use his phone to file, and it takes hours just to log in, refreshing the screen as often as he can.

“Nobody’s expressing any interest in helping these people,” Trentlage said. “You know, you’re telling me to go to a website that doesn’t work.”

Mike Ching, the general manager at Ching Young Village Shopping Center in Hanalei, also worries about his employees. It took him five days to help an employee of his, Joseph Rita, get onto the website just to create a username and password.

“We got to the password and it crashed,” Ching said. “We spent hours and we’re not successful.”

Ching has taken in Rita, who is a dishwasher, and makes sure he’s getting enough to eat each day and continues to help him file for unemployment.

Castro is trying to look to the bright side with her plans changed. She’s getting more time with her seven-year-old daughter and has talked to friends who are able to do the same now.

“It’s not all bad, everybody’s getting time with the family, which is nice since everybody’s always on the go here,” she said. “We’re all getting the chance to catch up.”

•••

Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

8 Comments
  1. nobody May 5, 2020 5:40 am Reply

    The Chings have always taken care of the struggling within the community. Glad to see it’s carrying on.


    1. Joe Public May 6, 2020 9:07 am Reply

      Yep, always taking care of registered sex offender


  2. Everythingisawesome May 5, 2020 8:25 am Reply

    “Nobody’s expressing any interest in helping these people,”

    Well, I know of at least one person that should. He’s been too busy becoming a ‘national celebrity’ or some such thing.

    I’m talking about you, Mayor Derek and Governor David. I know if I don’t use your names someone will say this is the fault of the President. I don’t mind calling people out when they deserve it; and you two deserve it in this case. Maybe spend a few more days weighing the pros and cons of opening the beaches before getting to the inconsequential issues like making sure people have money for food, shelter, electricity or medicine.


  3. Uncleaina May 5, 2020 8:54 am Reply

    Say wot? Bureaucracy in Hawaii slowing things down? No way! Here’s the thing: they never prepare for anything new. They seldom upgrade computers, get new systems – and I know initially the “system crashed” so they switched to doing everything by hand. Seriously? No. Upgrade the systems so they don’t crash. Think about how many places have systems that get heavy online traffic – it’s not 1996! We’re a very small state so having 20,000 try to log in should be something we CAN handle. In fact all this stuff is scalable and available from third party data services. But no, we are stuck in 1996 with auntie sorting all 309,000 claims on her desk and then acting like that’s ok.


  4. SimpleSolutions May 5, 2020 3:05 pm Reply

    Kauai has been hit with an pandemic and it’s not covid-19. Just like Covid-19, this other pandemic has never hit the islands, we were un-prepared for it, there are no vaccines, there was no infrastructure in place to fight this invisible enemy,

    The pandemic that I write about is an economic one. Shelter in place, curfews, non-essential store lock downs, and a shut down in tourism has resulted in businesses on the edge of financial ruin, high unemployment, and the under-employed now eating wild chickens and weeds.

    While we have zero cases of Covid-19 on the island, we need to concentrate on our island’s “other pandemic”….instead of a four day work week for our county employees (and there has not been any transmission of Covid-19 in the workplace) they should be working seven days a week to address this under-employed/under-served citizens. It should never come down to hunting wild chickens or eating weeds.

    The county needs to set up “help centers” at our schools or libraries to make sure that anyone who needs help with applying for unemployment and food stamps, gets the help they need.


  5. Mrs Butterworth May 5, 2020 4:48 pm Reply

    Uncle aina doesn’t live here, and he is not a local. neither does the woman in the first part of the story she is moving back to California where she belongs. so please help her get on the plane and get there to be with family like she says. in fact, anyone who wants to ditch back to California and to the rest of the mainland should be immediately accommodated, no questions asked. Make sure you get a forwarding mailing address, to forward the bill you will be sending. These people do not “live here”. They come here, hang out, get a few jobs, run through their island fever, and they are ready to go back when they find out its really hard in paradise to make a living. Hire locals instead of just arrived mainland tourists. What do they know about aloha and Kauai? Nothing. If they have family on the mainland they will eventually leave and go back, or bring them here. And i doubt they can do that on what you mainland bosses pay them.

    As for some of the others mentioned, they are actual Kauai citizens, and I know some of them. So, here it is. There are some huge gaps in services, this is absolutely true. For those of you that want to open your mouths wide and say “Ah” to the covid virus, there are many like Villanueva who will be even more at a loss, if some of you get your way and all of the restrictions are loosened. How will the ones who are the most at risk go about their lives if no one is wearing masks, there is no social distancing, and nothing is in place, and everything just “washes through?”. Do you think that’s fair, and you “Having your rights?”

    There needs to be complete services in place, so that affected people with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, affected immune systems, cancer, asthma, and other problems do not have to lift a finger to go outside their homes, only to exercise. Everything should be brought to them. Because of what some of you want to do which is just do as you please, and cough, and sneeze and spread your aloha to everyone regardless if it hurts or kills them. Then the rest of you want to have cruise ships come back and tourists come back. Yes that would be great. lets do that. and lets just not take care of all the people I just mentioned. lets just abandon them to their fate. lets let the tourists grab everything off of our shelves.

    Have you noticed how hoarding has virtually stopped? Thats because large families traveling here and grabbing everything isn’t happening anymore, and we have enough now for all of us. I am so sorry, you r employees aren’t able to make you your money. I know when you moved here and opened your business with all that money you had from the mainland you thought you were doing locals a favor. After all, its not like you have to pay them very much. they are used to working two and three jobs. You are a generous person, right?

    But now, the government isn’t kicking in. wait, aren’t you the same person that said government should get out of the way, and stop giving stuff to people? That was you, you know. Now you want government to help. But its your business. can’t you manage it on your own?

    I mean aren’t all those poor disabled people just losers who cant run a business like you can? I mean, come on, really? Suck it up, buddy. that’s what you tell others all the time, isn’t it?

    Got news for a lot of you mainland flyover birds who started businesses here. You pushed out locals, and overran their ideas took them as your own and used your saved up capital to come here and open up stuff with cutesy Hawaiian names on them, then hired people at minimum wage to make you money.

    So you know what i bet those people can get better jobs, they will get the help. Promise you that. But you may not get your employees back. because the days of underpaying and under-appreciating our people isn’t going to fly anymore. our people are smart and can do other things. Lots of other things. We have things like universities and colleges, and certification programs, and opportunities here. Its just that you exploited our “plantation mentality” towards “work till you die”, to fit your own narrative.

    Our people do not want to “work till we die” to make some mainland guy money.

    Mike Ching is born and raised and a good guy. Our mayor rocks, he is born and raised here, and a Kauai Boy and we are very very proud of him. he didn’t settle for minimum wage. he took care of his workers and treated them like family. he is doing the same thing for us during this crisis. For him Kauai people come first. that is the bottom line. He believed in us, and what we can do and what our talents and dreams are. he knows we are better than that. But he knows about the dignity of work too as we all do. He is excluded from my rant, along with Mike Ching. His father was a generous man, as was his mother. He isn’t going to let born and raised Hanalei people down, and leave them forgotten. Some of you do not care one bit about our people. Just your own bottom lines..

    thanks i needed to get that out!


    1. numilalocal May 6, 2020 12:36 pm Reply

      FINALLY someone comes out and says it all. Mahalo.


  6. Shawn Keoho May 5, 2020 4:55 pm Reply

    My name is Captain Shawn Keoho with The Salvation Army in Hanapepe, I would like provide bags of groceries to these employee’s in need of assistance. We are serving hot meals as well.

    Can someone help me get in touch with, Sheri Trentlage owns Garden Island Grille in Koloa.
    I have 45 bags of groceries ready right now. My office number is 808.335.5441
    Aloha,


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