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Effects Of The Stop & Shop Strike Begin To Ripple Through Local Economy

Jesse Costa
A striking Stop & Shop worker walks in front of the main entrance of the Somerville, Massachusetts location.

As the Stop & Shop strike stretches out past one week, some are starting to calculate its wider effect on the economy. Meanwhile, many of the striking workers themselves are waiting to hear if they have a chance to collect unemployment benefits.

The grocery chain and the union representing its employees are still negotiating toward a new collective bargaining agreement, although it's not clear what progress the two sides have made in recent days.

The supermarket industry overall is a significant economic player. According to economist Andy Condon at the Connecticut Department of Labor, across all companies and stores it accounts for almost 36,000 employees in Connecticut, who between them make about a billion dollars.

“On average that works out to about $28,000 a year or about $540 a week," said Condon. "Every person that’s out on strike every week is not making $540 a week and not spending $540 a week, so that has some impact on the economy.”

As for the Stop & Shop company, Condon says the amount of money out there for grocery stores is a fixed pie. In this stable market where people need groceries for sustenance, the piece of the pie for Stop and Shop goes elsewhere each day their stores are closed, or significantly affected by the strike.

And the picket lines near store entrances and in the parking lots aren't just affecting Stop & Shop itself. Many stores are located in plazas that house other businesses -- and they are also feeling the effects.

Gina Semmonella, owner of Gabel’s Wine shop in Branford, said she's seen a dramatic decrease in business since the strike started last week.

"The weekend was absolutely horrendous. I mean, it was terrible," she said. "We normally see, let’s say roughly 210, 250 customers on a Saturday. We saw 99. The customers who know who we are and they know we’re not associated and are not afraid to pass the picket line because they’re coming to the wine shop were OK. But the people that are afraid -- they’re turning people."

As striking workers themselves begin to feel the pressure of missing a paycheck, state officials say many are reaching out to file for unemployment compensation.

The Connecticut Department of Labor is telling Stop & Shop workers that they can file, but whether they can collect or not is still an open question.

It may take a while for a decision to be rendered because applicants in this scenario must go through a hearing process. 

“The general standard for being eligible for unemployment is whether or not you are ready, willing, and able to work," said labor and employment attorney Bob Brody. "If a person goes on strike, which means the company says the job’s available but the employee says, ‘I’m not going to come in because we’re on strike,’ then the employee is not ready, willing, and able to work."

However, that's not the only possible scenario.

"If the company locks out the employees, which means it says ‘union members, we’re not going to let you come to work’, then the employee is ready, willing and able to work, but they’re not able to work because the company won’t let them, they get unemployment for the lock out,” explained Brody.

A spokesperson for Stop & Shop said that the company has not locked out its employees.

Brody said the union workers may instead have to prove that Stop & Shop effectively locked them out by making the working conditions so bad that they had to walk away. But he thinks it's unlikely the employees will be able to make that claim.

Bill Gagne, an attorney representing members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 919 in Connecticut said the union is supporting members in their claims. “We are doing our best to be able to ensure that they will collect unemployment compensation,” he told Connecticut Public Radio.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.
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