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August 04. 2014 9:52PM

Market Basket workers may be ineligible for jobless benefits

Market Basket workers who lose their jobs because they refused to show up for work will probably not be eligible for unemployment benefits, according to the official who oversees unemployment benefits in New Hampshire.

But George Copadis, commissioner for employment security, said he can’t answer every question when it comes to Market Basket. For example, he doesn’t know what he’ll do about workers who have lost their jobs, but don’t attend company job fairs.

“This situation is so unique,” Copadis said. “This whole situation, it’s nothing we deal with on a regular basis.”

The jobs of hundreds of New Hampshire workers are in question this week, as Market Basket said workers needed to be back on the job Monday; the company has said it will seek replacements for those who don’t show up to work.

It’s unsure what effect the ultimatum will have in New Hampshire. Market Basket has 29 locations in New Hampshire, all retail supermarkets.

Over the last couple of weeks, workers have been seen in stores standing around with little to do. Some hold signs outside the stores, but it’s unclear if they’re on a scheduled shift or on their own time.

In comments Monday, Copadis stressed that every situation is different, and workers in his department interview both an unemployed worker and the employer to determine if a person is eligible for employment insurance benefits.

Generally speaking, a worker forfeits eligibility for unemployment benefits if he voluntarily refuses to work scheduled hours or quits a job when work is available.

But if an employer cuts hours or lays off workers, a worker is generally eligible for unemployment, he said.

Copadis said an employer could probably be justified for firing a worker who does not do his assigned job but holds a sign on company time.

Meanwhile, Market Basket worker Susan Miller of Amherst contacted the New Hampshire Union Leader to say her hours have been reduced from 30 to 10 since co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch took over Market Basket last month.

A 17-year Market Basket employee, Miller said she has been on partial unemployment.

“I am not scheduled for the rest of the week unless I am called by my manager to report to work,” she said.

Miller said Thornton and Gooch are creating an atmosphere of chaos.

“This is just one more of their scare tactics to establish an atmosphere of confusion and pitting one employee against another,” wrote Miller, who said she makes $11.50 an hour in the bakery department of the Market Basket in Nashua.

In New Hampshire, benefits range from $32 to $427 a week, depending on a worker’s wages.

Laid-off workers currently on unemployment are required to prove they contacted five potential employers every week, Copadis said.

It is totally up to the employee to decide which five employers, Copadis said.

The unemployment office would not require a worker on unemployment to attend the Market Basket job fair, he said.



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