Cannery Tales: Community Leaders Talk Story About Bygone Summers in Honolulu’s Pineapple Factories
Honolulu’s pineapple factories provided a rite of passage for generations of teens, including state senator David Ige and sumo star Konishiki. These summer jobs tossed them into the grind of a production line and left them with a mix of memories.
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66, a Hawai‘i state senator, worked at cannery jobs for three summers in the 1960s as a trimmer and a packer.
Minimum wage was $1.25 per hour but we felt like millionaires on payday. We used to put Vaseline and baby powder over our arms and the elastics of athletic socks before putting on our gloves so the pineapple juice wouldn’t run down into our gloves, causing bad rashes.
If the trimmers at the front of the line didn’t pick up their share of pine, those at the end were unfairly burdened. If you were quick, you could find yourself at the end of the line. But a good floor manager could bring balance by changing how we lined up.
I have a scar on my left ring finger from stopping a trimming knife from hitting someone next to me. It slipped out of the hands of someone trimming across the table from me.
That same forelady chose that time to tell me the original shaka sign was from someone who worked in the cannery and lost their three middle fingers in the Ginaca. After that, I used to have dreams that someone was screaming after opening a can of pineapple and a part of a finger was in there—mine.
When the Ginaca machines sent pineapples down too fast, the forelady would signal the guy (for some reason only the guys got to work the Ginaca machines) by pointing to her cane-trimming knife and then pointing at him—meaning that she would have it in for him if he didn’t slow it down.
Whenever the pau-hana time was changed to later hours, the time would be posted on a scoreboard and there would be a loud groan throughout the cannery. We worked night shift and worked so much OT, depending on how many trucks kept coming in. I caught the bus to and from work and was very self-conscious about smelling like a pineapple. It took me almost 30 years to eat pineapple again.
55, spent the summers of 1974 and 1975 working as a trimmer in the Del Monte Cannery. Today, he’s a nutritionist with the state Department of Education.
When you got a job at the cannery, there were no interviews. You just got in line and applied. They would tell you right away if you were hired. I was 15, and, not knowing anything about the process, I stood in the wrong line. The lady said, “OK, are you ready to leave in one week?” I had accidentally gotten in line for picking pineapples on Lāna‘i. I had this sinking feeling, like I had just accidentally joined the Army. I did not want to pick pineapple on Lāna‘i, but I was too gun-shy after that to apply for a regular job at Dole, so I went to Del Monte.
We were very young and there was a lot of monotony. I remember the rowdy guys used to jam up the Ginaca machine sometimes. They would hold their hand over where the pineapples shoot out, and the pineapples would stack up and get stuck inside. If you jammed it right, you could get a 15-minute break while they stopped the machine to clear it out.
That job made me think that when I got out of high school, I never wanted to have a job such as that again. I went to UH and majored in education with a minor in food. I work for the DOE. The ironic thing is my office is at the Dole Cannery building, which has been converted to shops and offices. I got a job at Dole after all.