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Friday, August 8, 2014

Thousands of Market Basket part-timers told they will be out of work as of Sunday

An estimated 8,000 part-time employees of Market Basket found out Thursday they will be out of work as of Sunday in the ongoing struggle over the company’s future.

In the face of a 90 percent decline in sales since an employee-led boycott began two weeks ago, store managers have been told to schedule no hours for their part-timer workers in the upcoming work week, which begins Sunday. ...

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An estimated 8,000 part-time employees of Market Basket found out Thursday they will be out of work as of Sunday in the ongoing struggle over the company’s future.

In the face of a 90 percent decline in sales since an employee-led boycott began two weeks ago, store managers have been told to schedule no hours for their part-timer workers in the upcoming work week, which begins Sunday.

The effect of the decision is sweeping, since the bulk of grocery store employees are part-timer workers. At the Market Basket on 212 Lowell Road in Hudson, for example, about 260 of the roughly 300 employees will be affected, managers said.

That includes Susanna Belch. The 1986 graduate of Nashua High School, a single mother with a 7-year-old son, has been a
cashier for a little over a year and a half.

“You have to give two weeks notice if you want to leave a job, but we got no notice,” she said Thursday morning after coming out of a meeting with managers at which the news was announced. “I figured it would come to some agreement before they did this.”

Belch works 16 hours a week at $8.25 an hour. Fighting back tears, she said she would go to the unemployment office and then other grocery stores when her shift ended.

“I’ll go to Whole Foods, try them,” she said, speaking of a store that is scheduled to open Aug. 19. “I’ve got to do something. When you have a job, then you can sit down and cry, but first I’ve got to do something.”

Assistant manger Arthur Eldredge, a 38-year veteran of Market Basket who has worked at the Lowell Road store for six years, said managers had actually been told a week ago to stop giving hours to part-timers as a cost-cutting measure. That announcement came too late, he said, after the Sunday-to-Saturday schedules had already been posted, so it didn’t go into effect until this coming Sunday.

“We’ve never had a layoff in my 38 years,” Eldredge said.

Can the store be operated at its current schedule, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. most days, with its 42 full-timers, most of whom do not get paid overtime?

“We’ll see,” he said.

In statement released by the company’s public-relations firm, CEO Felicia Thornton wrote that “All Store Directors are to let their associates know that they are not laid off. … All Store Directors as part of their normal responsibilities are able to and often do reduce hours but they need to make clear when doing so that the individuals are still employees of DSM.”

“Theoretically they’re not laid off; I just can’t schedule them,” said store director Dan Desfosses.

Gov. Maggie Hassan called the cutbacks “troubling” in a statement Thursday morning.

“Market Basket is important to our state’s economy and plays a critical role in our communities for both employees and consumers, providing fair living wages to its employees and affordable products to its customers. I have been heartened by the support I have seen across New Hampshire for this New England tradition and by the value New Hampshire citizens place on their neighbors being treated and paid fairly,” she wrote. “The reports about these reductions in hours are incredibly troubling, as many of these dedicated employees have been showing up for work and clearly value the company’s past, present and future.”

The move may not technically be a layoff, because the part-timers’ jobs will remain even though they are not working or being paid next week.

Market Basket’s troubles were triggered when about 600 workers at its massive distribution center in Tewksbury, Mass., stopped work to protest the firing of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, part of a long family struggle over control of the firm. The company also has a warehouse in Andover, Mass.; both facilities are considered vital to the company’s ability to keep prices low, by streamlining its logistics.

Deliveries have been sporadic or non-existent since then: the produce and meat sections of the Hudson store, like most Market Baskets, are empty.

“They tell us if we place our orders we’ll get our deliveries, but they’re not coming in,” Desfosses said. “Or you order one of this they send you three of that. … Some produce has come in and it was post-dated.”

If employees resume work and customers return, then part-timers’ hours might return as well. That won’t help Belch this week as she tries to get her son ready for the start of school.

“I don’t know how I’m going to take care of him,” she said. “It’s so heartless.”

The New Hampshire Department of Employment Security has been distributing materials to Market Basket stores in anticipate of something like this, said Commissioner George Copadis.

The department’s main Web page has a large noticed for “Market Basket/Demoulas Associates and Employees,” saying “If your hours have been reduced or you have been laid off, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.”

“Anybody who feels they could possibly have a claim, should file a claim with us,” Copadis said. “We encourage everybody to file online.”

Claims can be filed online at www.nhes.nh.gov, or at the Nashua office, 6 Townsend West, or by telephone at 882-5177.

The state Attorney General’s Office said it had “is receiving numerous telephone calls from employees of Market Basket reporting that they have been laid off from their jobs and were instructed to call the Attorney General’s Office” for unemployment information, but noted that in New Hampshire, unlike the situation in Massachusetts, where Market Basket is headquartered, unemployment issues are not handled by the Attorney General’s Office.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).