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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Executives order Market Basket employees back to work as customer support buoys protesters

NASHUA – The chief executives of the Market Basket supermarkets told employees Wednesday they must return to work by Monday if they want to avoid being penalized.

The statement issued Wednesday also said the company will begin seeking replacements for those who don’t. ...

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NASHUA – The chief executives of the Market Basket supermarkets told employees Wednesday they must return to work by Monday if they want to avoid being penalized.

The statement issued Wednesday also said the company will begin seeking replacements for those who don’t.

“We need associates to return to work on Monday August 4th,” the statement said. “We understand that some associates may choose not to return, consequently we will begin advertising for employment opportunities. Our hope and strong preference is to have Market Basket’s incredible associates return to work.”

Market Basket workers continued standing outside area stores Wednesday, holding signs and expressing support for the company’s ousted CEO. Customers are also donating drinks and food, even if they aren’t always the healthiest.

“There’s one guy who comes by and gives us Popsicles,” said Chris Silvia of Tyngsborough, Mass., as he stood in front of Somerset Plaza, where he has worked part-time at Market Basket for five years. “We get pizza, water. People have been very supportive.”

The food looked even better in front of the Market Basket in Hudson, on Lowell Road, where more than a dozen workers were operating a grill Wednesday.

Silvia was waving a hand-written sign saying “Bring back Artie T,” a reference to Arthur T. Demoulas, who at the moment is on the losing side of a lengthy family feud over control of the Demoulas Market Basket company. During his lunchtime stint, Silvia was accompanied by more than a dozen fellow workers waving similar signs and drawing an almost continuous blaring of supportive car horns from the passing traffic – so many car horns, in fact, that at times conversation is difficult.

The sparkling new Market Basket store, which opened last summer, has been getting more sparkling as bored workers polished shelves amid an almost complete lack of customers who are boycotting at the behest of employees.

Silvia works in the produce department, which is virtually empty these days because other workers have refused to unload trucks.

“The store’s never been cleaner,” Silvia said, laughing.

The Somerset Plaza store includes many signs of the employee protest, including dozens of sales receipts from other grocery stores such as Shaw’s and Hannaford Bros. taped to the windows – a sign that customers are deliberately taking their money elsewhere.

Inside the store, one of the few customers pushing a grocery cart admitted he wasn’t really a customer.

“I came to see if I could find out anything. I’m not really buying anything,” said Mike Harrington, of Nashua, who said he has shopped at the Market Basket in Somerset Plaza for many years, starting when it was located at the opposite end of the plaza.

Harrington said he sees people he recognizes as other regular shoppers, but not at Market Basket.

“I see them over at Hannaford’s,” he said.

Out on Amherst Street, Silvia said he fears that if Arthur T.’s cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, maintains control of the company it will become a worse place for employees, and thus for customers.

“I’ve always been treated well,” said Silvia, who attends college. “I can come back from school and they have the job waiting. It’s a great place to work for – work I’m proud of doing.”

Another employee, who declined to give his name, said he had worked at Market Basket 20 years and had met Arthur T. Demoulas “many times” as the CEO toured his company’s stores.

All the workers questioned Wednesday said they were as much in the dark about the future of the company as anybody.

“As soon as the manager learns anything, he tells us,” the 20-year employee said.

The board of directors has been meeting and issuing statements, including an assertion that offers for the company had been received from several places, including Arthur T. Demoulas, but otherwise there are few details.

Market Basket published advertisements in Thursday newspapers saying it would hold job fairs Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at its IT computer center at 340 Ballardvale St., Andover, Mass., for multiple positions.

The job fairs from 4-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday are for current employees who might be interested in another open position. Wednesday’s event runs from 1-8 p.m. and is for people not currently employed with the grocer.

The protest is loosely organized – there’s no schedule and people just show up starting at 7 a.m. All the protesters were standing in the sun on their own time, and all are continuing to work their shifts at the Market Basket – even though there’s little to do.

Silvia said employees at various rallies discussed possible actions, including trying to shut the stores, but decided to rally for public support.

“We still have food,” he said of the store, which remains well stocked except for perishables. “If customers need items, we don’t want to get in their way.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).