The worst storm in the Florida Keys in six decades left Hawks Cay Resort with extensive damage — and 260 employees who are now jobless.
On Oct. 13, the majority of workers at the resort on Duck Key, mile marker 61 oceanside, were let go via email. It’s been just over six weeks since Category 4 Hurricane Irma made landfall and destroyed parts of the 60-acre resort, among hundreds of other properties in the island chain.
“Our crew members are what make Hawks Cay Resort special. This decision was the most difficult one that we had to make,” Managing Director Sheldon Suga said in a statement Friday.
The resort, with a private beach, three pools, three restaurants and a marine center where guests can swim with dolphins, will not reopen until summer 2018, a representative told the Keynoter Friday. Therefore, the decision was made to let the majority of the staff go, she said.
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One of those laid off who declined to be named said he felt terrible when he got the news and does not want to work there again if given the chance.
“The only communication I really had from them after I got back from evacuating was a phone call and it wasn’t “Hi, how are you?’ It was ‘Do you have any of our uniforms?’ I went, ‘Are you serious? My house was flooded and I’m not really worried if I have any of your uniforms.’ ”
He said most of his former coworkers, about 50 where he worked, have moved out of the area and most don’t plan on coming back.
Among other employees affected are 33 housekeepers, 21 cooks, 15 stewards, 14 servers, 14 recreation attendants and 13 engineers. Supervisory positions include the group sales manager, the human resources recruiting manager, the director of rooms and the assistant chief engineer, according to a letter the resort filed with the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
“We ensured crew members received hurricane pay up to Oct. 14,” Suga said. “With a reopening date still unknown, we had to give them notice.... We have and continue to make significant efforts to help our staff members find employment including both locally” and at other resorts in the U.S.
The Connecticut-based company HEI Hotels owns Hawks Cay and manages 70 hotels and resorts across the country. Workers who were laid off can reapply with Hawks Cay when it reopens, Suga said.
The Department of Economic Opportunity offers several programs to workers impacted by Irma, including disaster unemployment assistance. The deadline to apply is Oct. 31.
Hawks Cay was not the only Keys resort to sustain extensive damage. In Islamorada, the Islander Oceanside and Cheeca Lodge and Spa are closed for repairs. It’ll be months before either one reopens. Between the two, they employed hundreds of people.
Tourism is a $2.7 billion industry in Monroe County, responsible for 54 percent of all jobs, according to the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.
Miami Herald reporter Chabeli Herrera contributed to this report.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219