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Massachusetts loses jobs in August; Market Basket feud seen as likely factor

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BOSTON — The worker revolt at the Market Basket supermarket chain appears to have caused a ripple effect in the Massachusetts economy, with the state reporting Thursday that several thousand jobs were lost in August, largely because of "temporary employment disruptions" in the retail sector.

The state's unemployment rate in August was 5.8 percent, up from 5.6 percent in July.

Massachusetts lost 5,300 jobs last month, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, after gaining an estimated 12,200 jobs the previous month.

"The retail sector that reflects this loss includes grocery and food chains," said Rachel Kaprielian, the state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. "The impact was one of temporary employment disruption."

Kaprielian noted that confidentiality rules prohibited the agency from naming specific companies in state employment reports. It is not uncommon for labor disputes to affect monthly data, she added.

Market Basket employees staged a six-week walkout after the firing of popular chief executive Arthur T. Demoulas. Customers also boycotted the Tewksbury-based chain and hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers refused to deliver fresh produce to the 71-store chain in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The protest ended in late August when Demoulas purchased a controlling share of the company from his cousin and rival, Arthur S. Demoulas, and other family members.

Kaprielian said she was hopeful of a "correction" in the monthly employment numbers in September.

The overall Massachusetts economy remained strong, she added, encouraging many workers who had left the labor market to once again start looking for work.

The state's total labor force increased by 5,800 from July, the report said. Among the sectors that showed gains in employment in August were education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and professional, scientific and business services.

The sector that includes retail lost 10,600 jobs, or nearly 2 percent, in August.

Despite the rise in the unemployment rate, Massachusetts remained below the national unemployment rate, which fell to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent the previous month.

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