The new leadership of the parent company of Market Basket stepped up pressure on protesting workers Tuesday, overnighting letters to, it said, 200 employees warning them that if they don’t return to work by Friday, they will be deemed to have “abandoned” their jobs and presumably be fired and replaced.
"If I don't go to work on Friday, then I'm considered terminated, and abandoning my job," was how Bob Ferrante, a 29-year veteran of Market Basket’s accounting department, summarized the letter he got. Ferrante questioned whether the allegation was fair, noting that for two weeks he was away on vacation and attempted to go into his office on weekends, something he regularly does, but got resistance from security personnel. "I was on a scheduled vacation” for 10 of the workdays the company says he “has not reported to work," Ferrante said.
Steve Paulenka, one of eight senior Market Basket managers fired after the June 23 termination of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas that sparked an ongoing employee revolt and customer boycott July 18, said, "This is, by my count, the fifth time they've threatened us with termination at one level or another," Paulenka said. "It does not shake us. It only strengthens our resolve. We’re stronger than we were at this time yesterday because of this letter."
The company would not directly confirm or comment on the text of letters many employee recipients posted on social media, but a company spokesperson said by e-mail: "Since July 17, approximately 200 associates who work at headquarters >and the distribution centers" in Andover, Lawrence, and Tewksbury "have failed to report to work, despite several company communications requesting they do so. The company has not taken any action in response to their absence, but is left with no choice but to make this last request. The company will of course follow all applicable laws should these associates choose to abandon their positions."
Already this week, thousands of part-time employees among the 25,000 Market Basket employees are getting no hours of work and no pay because sales have collapsed, falling as much as 90 percent or more, at the 71 Market Basket stores. Many customers are refusing to shop at Market Basket in solidarity with workers’ calls for Arthur T. Demoulas to be reinstated as CEO, and a number are just not shopping at the store because its shattered supply chain means there’s no produce, meat, or other key grocery product lines at stores. Employees' demand is for Arthur T. Demoulas to be restored as CEO because they fear the side of the family aligned with his cousin-nemesis, Arthur S. Demoulas, wants to slash their pay, bonuses and retirement benefits, raise prices, and drain profits to fatten their dividends. Arthur S. Demoulas’s side has alleged Arthur T. and his family have enriched themselves through improper “related-party transactions” where Demoulas Supermarkets Inc. pays other entitities affiliated with Arthur T. to rent real estate and receive other services.
Paulenka said he is confident the new letters will be seen as a threat to effectively fire 200 people for backing Arthur T. "There's no question in my mind that's not going to go over big with our customers, and they're the 800-pound gorilla in this, and they always have been and they're staying away by the millions."
Ferrante said he’s still thinking through how to respond to the letter. "What am I going to do on Friday? I am scheduled to be in work. I am scheduled to be in work," Ferrante said. "So I guess we have to play it by ear. I am hoping like a lot of people this is settled by Friday" and hot-and-cold reports of a deal under which Arthur T. Demoulas buys out the Arthur S. side’s 50.5 percent controlling stake in the supermarket chain come to fruition.
With videographer Nik Saragosa