As the Market Basket worker rebellion over Arthur T. Demoulas’s firing as CEO entered its 20th day, the hammer came down on hundreds, potentially thousands of part-time workers Thursday: They were warned they will get zero hours of work next week because sales are plummeting.
Like many supermarket chains, Market Basket requires store managers to maintain minimum ratios of store sales to payroll. So with many stores reporting sales down 90 percent or more, company CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch ordered managers at the 71 stores to keep payroll within the proper ratios – and managers overwhelmingly decided to cut or eliminate part-timer work in order to protect jobs with medical benefits for full-time employees.
"This is the worst day that I’ve ever had working for this company," said Glenn Connors, the director of the Brockton Market Basket, a 36-year company veteran who has 500 people counting on him for a paycheck, including more than 400 part-timers he had to warn would get no work next week. "It’s unthinkable what we’ve had to do today."
"No hours next week" was what cashier Dulce Mendes said she and others will have to live with. "It’s going to be very hard for a lot of people here. A lot of them are high school students, they’re college students, they have kids, they have families."
Mackenzie Clarke, a part-time cashier who’s beginning as a freshman at Keene State College in New Hampshire at the end of the summer, said she expects to miss out on at least two paychecks she was counting on. "I was really hoping I’d get these checks to pay for my books, but now I’m not sure what I’m going to do." Her mother works full-time at the same store at the customer help desk and carries health insurance for the family, "and now I don’t know what’s going to happen with that, too."
For Patrick Paulera, getting paychecks from the Brockton Market Basket has literally meant getting a roof over his family’s head.
"I was homeless for six months, and I got taken in here and they took good care of me. I really do love this company," Paulera said, but added: "I have no second job. My father, my sister, and I, we all work here, and we are not going to have any hours next week."
A spokesperson for Market Basket parent Demoulas Supermarkets said in an e-mailed statement: "The CEOs have said they would welcome back all associates in an effort to return to full operations for the benefit of Market Basket's customers, associates, vendors and communities. Toward that end, they have told Store Directors to receive deliveries and stock their shelves. Standard company practice is that Store Directors are responsible for determining appropriate staffing levels in their stores. Store Directors were not instructed to lay off associates, but to adjust hours to meet current demand. It is our hope that we will be back to normal business levels in the not too distant future and all associates will be back to a full schedule."
The spokesperson also made public an email from co-CEO Felicia Thornton to top managers at the 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine: "I have issued an immediate communication for all Store Directors. 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."
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley opened a special hotline for Market Basket employees affected by the cutbacks, (617) 963-2400, to help them learn what unemployment or other benefits they may be entitled to.
"Layoffs are different from terminations and the action that’s taken will trigger a different set of rights," Coakley said, and acknowledged there may be nothing government officials can do to help part-time workers who’ve had hours reduced lawfully.
At the same time, The Boston Globe reported Thursday that Hannaford is making a bid for the Market Basket chain. Based in Scarborough, Maine, it has about 180 stores, mostly across Northern New England and the Albany, New York, area, and about two dozen in Massachusetts, and is owned by Belgian conglomerate Delhaize. Hannaford called the report speculation and said it would not comment about any acquisitions or divestitures.
Kevin Griffin, publisher of The Griffin Report, a supermarket trade publication considered a bible in the industry, said the Hannaford bid could make some sense – but questioned how it could addres the issue that thousands of protesting workers say they will only return to work and drop their support for a customer boycott when Arthur T. Demoulas is restored as CEO.
"When you look at the footprint, Hannaford versus Market Basket, it might make sense for them – but how do you value a company that is basically at a standstill and is deteriorating every day?" Griffin said. "They’re losing 10 million bucks a day, and you know, there’s a firestorm associated with the brand."
Given that Arthur T. Demoulas’s side of the family owns 49.5 percent of the company he has expressed no interest in selling, and the faction associated with his cousin-enemy Arthur S. Demoulas has 50.5 percent, if Hannaford did a deal with Arthur S. and his sisters and sister-in-law, "They still have to deal with Arthur T. So I don’t know how they do that."
Griffin said it’s possible Hannaford may be expressing interest in buying Market Basket in order to get its investment bankers and lawyers to give it an unprecedented opportunity to look over Market Basket’s books, finances, and practices, and then would decide not to buy after all. While Hannaford would normally be bound by a non-disclosure agreement not to reveal anything they’d learned about Market Basket to anyone else, they would know and could act on all kinds of valuable information about Market Basket’s pricing, supply chain, operations, vendor relations, and much more.
"The thing that really makes sense is for them to bring a deal together with Arthur T.," Griffin said. "I believe that if Arthur T. came back and they put a deal together and he were to buy the remaining shares from Arthur S.’s family, I believe the company would come back. I believe they could come back strong. There’d be a giant rally."
All part-time employees are asked to call the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office at 1-617-727-2200, CEO Felicia Thornton at 1-978-995-1598, Massachusetts unemployment offices at 1-617-626-6800 or email Thornton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With videographer Dan Smith