Hawaii Gas strike forces several companies to close

The ongoing Hawaii Gas strike is beginning to affect local businesses that are being forced to close due to service disruption.

More than a handful of businesses, mostly restaurants on the island of Hawaii, no longer have gasoline to run their restaurants and have been forced to close until delivery trucks arrive to refill the propane tanks they rely on for cook food.

On Wednesday afternoon at Kona Commons in Kailua-Kona, four restaurants sharing a propane tank suddenly ran out of gas and have been waiting for a refill from Hawaii Gas before they can resume operations.

“We ran out of gas in the middle of the damn service. It was like 3 (pm) and they beat us up,” said Jeff Carzino, who owns the Ultimate Burger restaurant with his wife. “We had 10 orders on the board at the time the gas went out.”

Daiichi Ramen, Genki Sushi and Panda Express were the other restaurants in the mall that halted operations due to gasoline shortages.

Hawaii Gas reportedly failed to deliver gas to the Kona Commons when it said it would.

“Our property manager called Hawaii Gas today and received confirmation of a delivery around noon,” a Kona Commons spokesperson said in an email around 5 p.m. Thursday, adding that the delivery had not been made. done.

The gas service outage is attributed to the ongoing strike between the utility and more than 200 unionized employees. After weeks of contract negotiations, the workers, with the Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers, Local 996, decided to go on strike against Hawaii Gas effective June 1 after they were offered a wage increase and medical costs they deemed insufficient.

Hawaii Gas acknowledged the service interruptions.

In a statement, he said: “We are aware that there are a small number of businesses affected on the Big Island and we are working to refill their tanks as soon as possible. Hawai’i Gas is working closely with individual companies on a case-by-case basis to find immediate solutions.”

While service from the state’s only franchised gas company, which has 70,000 customers, did not initially appear to cause any problems, the remaining supply in the propane tanks that have kept the companies afloat is starting to run low.

About 13 miles south of Kona Commons, in Captain Cook, the Manago Hotel has closed its restaurant to preserve what’s left of its 1,000-gallon propane tank so hotel guests can have hot water.

Like the mall, Hawaii Gas did not deliver gas on schedule, so the hotel has had to rely on whatever is in its propane tank on the premises.

The hotel’s tank was 20% full on Thursday afternoon and the restaurant’s closure will significantly reduce the hotel’s propane usage.

But it is only a temporary solution.

“I checked the tank gauge this morning and it was low, so we had to make the decision to close the restaurant,” hotel manager Jaren Niimi said. “Without the restaurant running, it should last about a week. With the restaurant running, it will last about a day or two.”

Also, like the Kona Commons, there isn’t much the hotel can do in the way of planning, because Hawaii Gas doesn’t provide you with enough information.

“They couldn’t give us a timetable or an explanation,” Niimi said. “On their website and social media, they said that the service will not be interrupted, but that is not true.”

Knowing for sure that gas won’t be delivered for a week is bad news, but many would rather know that than be told gas could arrive at any moment.

That is the most frustrating part for many.

“Food is a pain in the ass, and there are a lot of people tied to it all,” Carzino said. “Just not knowing what the plan is, that’s the hardest part, because then we can’t plan. … Do we open, no, what do we tell the employees, do we order food, do we not order food?”

In Pukalani on Maui, Serpico’s pizzeria was closed for about a full day Wednesday before a Hawaii Gas truck delivered gasoline to his restaurant Thursday afternoon.

“I understand they’re short-staffed, but they couldn’t even give us a time frame, which made it really difficult,” manager Jared Monoogan said after speaking with the utility after the restaurant’s gas went out Wednesday. .

The restaurant suddenly ran out of propane around 12:30 p.m., causing some of the equipment to stop working.

“We said, ‘Oh, hell, the pizza oven isn’t working.’ We basically had to shut down in the middle (of the day),” Monoogan said. “We had to turn down some of the business we had on the phone. Some of the diners who came in, luckily they were kind enough to change into something we could heat up with what little heat we had left.”

Although other gas companies, such as AmeriGas or Alii Gas, can also provide propane to restaurants, some of the restaurant managers and owners said they are prohibited from using them to fill on-site propane tanks manufactured for Hawaii Gas.

The closure so far does not appear to have affected any of the other islands. Larger facilities, like some of Waikiki’s largest hotels, rely on underground pipelines rather than delivery trucks and have not experienced gasoline shortages.

However, many of the places affected are smaller businesses, and being closed for even one day is a major setback.

If the store is closed for the weekend, Carzino said he might have to donate thousands of dollars worth of ingredients that might still be fresh but no longer usable for the restaurant. That, plus the loss of revenue over a summer weekend, would be a tough weekend, he said.

At the start of the strike, Hawaii Gas had assured the public that basic gas service would not be interrupted and only some installation and maintenance services might be affected. Non-union employees, who are mostly managers, were being deployed to take over after the strike.

But Hawaii Gas said in a statement Thursday that it is “using temporary outside staff to support customers during this time. These resources will not replace any local jobs, but will ensure service delivery.”

In the meantime, businesses are being asked to check their propane tanks and not empty them completely, which could be dangerous.

“We’ve been in conversations with Hawaii Gas, asking what we should tell our members,” said Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association. “They said to let the (HRA) members know to look at the gauge (on their tanks), and if they’re not sure what the level is, they should stop.”

There have been no significant updates on the contract negotiation between the utility and the Hawaii Teamsters, although the utility said the two parties met on Saturday.

Hawaii Gas said in an email that another meeting between the parties is scheduled for today and that it is “encouraged to return to the negotiating table.”

The Hawaii Teamsters have not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.