Benny’s employees offered help as chain hints at future of real estate

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Labor and Training will be offering help to hundreds of Benny’s employees who will soon be losing their jobs after the retail chain announced plans to close its doors.

“We feel like everybody else does about the closing, and we’re rooting for them,” DLT Director Scott Jensen told Eyewitness News on Monday. “And we’ll help them.”

Jensen said DLT will be deploying its so-called “rapid response” teams to Benny’s stores in the near future. Agency workers will help current employees craft résumés and search for job openings, and they’ll also assist them in signing up for unemployment benefits and health insurance through HealthSource RI, the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

Of the 400 Rhode Island Benny’s employees set to lose their jobs as stores close by the end of the year, 244 are full-time workers, while 156 are part-time. Jensen said the benefits available to each worker will vary depending on his or her specific circumstances.

“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “They shouldn’t think it’s going to be easy. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Some Benny’s employees have expressed frustration about the store closures, saying they found out through social media or news reports.

One employee, who asked not to be identified because she feared losing her job, said she was at home when the news broke – and was told by her mother.

“We’re mad,” the employee said. “A lot of us are extremely sad. There’s been a few people crying in the back room.”

Dante Bellini, a spokesman for Benny’s, said notice of the stores’ closures was delivered to employees before a news release was issued to the media on Friday afternoon. He also said there was a meeting at the company’s headquarters in Smithfield with office and warehouse staff, and afterwards members of the Bromberg family, which owns Benny’s, personally called each store to break the news.

Bellini acknowledged it is possible that part-time workers who weren’t at the stores at the time may have found out through outside sources, but said, “We did it as thoroughly and as sensitively as humanly possible.” He added, “It was a very, very hard day for the Bromberg family.”

All 31 Benny’s locations are scheduled to close by the end of this year. Bellini also offered a hint about the future of the stores, saying in the coming weeks or months there could be news that would have an impact on some employees.

While Bellini didn’t offer specifics, he said he could “only assume” that the chain’s real estate would be eyed by other retailers.