U.S. Labor Department: Garbo Lobster workers eligible for aid

Chris Archuleta, left, and David Dozier, second from left, then employees at Garbo Lobster in Groton, grade lobsters for shipping on Aug. 9, 2018. Garbo Lobster has since closed the Groton facility.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Chris Archuleta, left, and David Dozier, second from left, then employees at Garbo Lobster in Groton, grade lobsters for shipping on Aug. 9, 2018. Garbo Lobster has since closed the Groton facility. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — The U.S. Department of Labor this week approved a petition requesting that former Garbo Lobster employees be eligible for benefits due to the impact that a Chinese tariff and competition from Canada had on the Groton facility that closed last month.

The state Department of Labor filed the petition on behalf of the laid-off employees so they could apply for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance for benefits that include training and help finding a new job for workers whose employment was affected by foreign competition.

"We are extremely pleased that USDOL has determined that the employees who worked at East Coast Seafood/Garbo Lobster are now eligible for federally-funded training assistance," Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said in a statement. "CTDOL will be sending out notification letters and looks forward to helping the certified employees access training opportunities that will lead to new jobs and careers. We appreciate the work of the US Department of Labor's Division of Trade Adjustment Assistance, the support from Congressman Joe Courtney's office and the dedication everyone has shown in helping our residents."

Courtney called it "a great victory" for the men and women laid off due to the Jan. 17 closure.

“It is particularly impressive because it was the workers, not the employer, who initiated this certification from the Department of Labor, which is extremely unusual," said Courtney, who praised the teamwork of Westby, state Department of Labor, the employees and his staff. "The Trade Adjustment Assistance program will provide enhanced benefits to these folks, opening the door to job training opportunities, in addition to unemployment benefits, so that they can be connected with Connecticut’s job market quickly and successfully."

East Coast Seafood Group said in a statement Friday that its top priority is the employees affected by the closure and continuing to support them as they move to new jobs.

"We are aware of and support the petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance, by the U.S. Department of Labor," the company said. "While the relocation was the result of years of careful planning within our organization, current trade conditions reinforced the decision and hastened the move. We thank the hardworking employees at our respective facilities and their corresponding communities, for the continued support over many years."

East Coast Seafood Group, which owns Garbo Lobster, is moving most of the work previously done in Groton to a Prospect Harbor, Maine, facility that East Coast Seafood and Garbo Lobster acquired in 2012, the company said in an earlier statement. The company said it had planned the consolidation for years and is investing in the Maine location: "By strategically enhancing a facility that is geographically located in the heart of the resource, the company is recognizing greater efficiencies and creating value for all stakeholders." The rest of the work will be moved to a New Bedford, Mass., facility with a "new state-of-the-art lobster processing line."

In its petition to the U.S. Department of Labor, the state agency said that, "While the employer stated verbally and in a press release that the consolidation is the result of years of careful planning and not due to foreign trade, an August 2018 news story and information from House Representative Joe Courtney's office infer that the company lost business due to a Chinese tariff on seafood coupled with increased competition from Canada."

Courtney visited Garbo Lobster in August 2018, after tariffs from China on seafood and other items in response to U.S. tariffs had taken effect. The Day reported that Garbo Lobster General Manager Chris Brown said China canceled orders, and Garbo Lobster President Dave Garbo said, "The tariff is putting us out of business."

The U.S. Department of Labor made its decision to certify the employees as eligible after an investigation in which the federal agency gathered information from the company, the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Census Bureau, according to the approved petition.

The federal Labor Department has estimated about 26 employees are eligible for the assistance, according to the state Department of Labor.

The state Department of Labor said in a news release that people who believe they may be eligible for benefits but don't receive information from the state agency should contact the American Job Center closest to them. Locally, there are centers in Montville, at 601 Norwich New London Turnpike, Suite 1, Uncasville, and in Windham at 1320 Main St., Willimantic. 

For more information about the benefits, affected workers can visit bit.ly/CTtradeact.

"Available assistance may include training assistance, income support in the form of Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), and job search and relocation allowances for qualified workers who seek or obtain employment outside their normal commuting areas," the agency said. "Individuals 50 years of age and older who return to lower-paying work may be eligible to receive Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance (RTAA) wage subsidies."

k.drelich@theday.com

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