Three weeks ago Market Basket employees at the Tewksbury, Mass., warehouse walked off the job along with rank and file employees to voice their opposition to the firing of Chief Executive Officer Arthur T. DeMoulas. Since then, plenty more employees and even customers have joined the fray by boycotting Market Basket stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the single store in Maine, 71 stores in all.
Employees and customers lined the entrance to the Garden Lane store in Londonderry on Monday holding placards that say they won’t work for anyone other than Arthur T. Shoppers’ placards said they are in full support of the employees.
On Sunday, Arthur T. released a statement saying that he and “his side of the family have been working around the clock to pursue their offer to buy the 50.5 percent of shares in (DeMoulas Super Markets) they do not own for a full and fair price. As part of his proposal, Arthur T. has also offered to move immediately to return to work in advance of the completion of the stock purchase and work to bring back his full team to stabilize and begin to restore the business. He offered to do so starting as soon as midnight tonight. These steps are critical at this point and are in the best interests of associates, customers, vendors and shareholders. Time is of the essence. Arthur T. is hopeful but resolution depends on the response of the other shareholders in order for an agreement to be reached.”
No one answered the phones at Market Basket corporate headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 5.
The Market Basket brouhaha is the result of a long-standing family feud between the Arthur T. DeMoulas side of the family and the Arthur S. DeMoulas side. While Arthur T. had served as president and CEO, Arthur S. gained controlling interest of the company with 50.5 percent of the stock and Arthur T. was fired.
On Thursday, July 31, the current co-CEOs, Felicia Thornton and James Gooch, said employees were to return to work by Monday, Aug. 4, or their jobs would be filled. An advertisement stated that employees who wanted better positions within the company could attend a job fair with no repercussions for their protest actions.
“If they want to fire us, then go ahead, but good luck firing 25,000 people. They are just trying to run it into the ground, basically,” employee Emily Brouillet, 19, said of the current upper management.
On July 31, the Attorneys General of New Hampshire and Massachusetts sent a letter to Gooch and Thornton, warning of their intent to protect the rights of the residents of their states who work for Market Basket.
“We write to you as the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states, which includes our duty to protect the rights of workers under Massachusetts and New Hampshire law,” the letter states. “We are keenly aware of recent reports that Market Basket has terminated a number of employees and of reports that more workers may face termination and replacement in the coming days… we urge Market Basket to be mindful of the fact that its decisions have broad implications. Your decisions directly impact thousands of employees and thousands of customers….Those decisions also have serious implications for the many small businesses that supply your stores or otherwise rely on a close business relationship with Market Basket for their livelihood..”
New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster noted that any worker in the Granite State whose employment is terminated must be paid all wages due within 72 hours of discharge, including bonuses, earned sick time, holiday or vacation pay and benefit plan contributions
Violations could result in criminal or civil penalties from the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division, and a civil suit could be filed by individual workers for treble damages, attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
“Whatever decisions you make in the coming days, needless to say our offices expect and will require compliance with our respective laws,” the letter added.
Inside the Londonderry store, with only one or two customers in the cavernous building, Assistant Store Director Sean Morse said the issue was confusing people.
“The people that they talk about going back to work are warehouse employees in the corporate office,” he said. “Here’s the confusing part: they are hiring store directors and assistant store directors and accountants at the job fair, but none of us have left our job. We’re still in here taking care of the store and any customers that come in. The people that walked off the job are the corporate executives, yet they’re hiring people for our jobs and we haven’t left our positions. Warehouse workers and truck drivers walked off the job, yet they’re hiring to staff stores. We don’t have a problem, we lack customers, we have workers.”
Morse said that when customers shop elsewhere, they don’t get Market Basket pricing. “Our hope is that our customers will stay with us with their support,” Morse said.
Store Director Mark Lemieux has said the customers are what the employees need to sustain the momentum of their protest.
On Tuesday, what was considered the most populous rally to date was held at the Tewksbury Market Basket, with “10,000 to 15,000” employees and customers rallying in support of Arthur T., according to Londonderry Market basket Assistant Store Manager Jim Theriault.
He said that at a job fair held at the Andover, Mass., Market Basket on Monday to allow employees to seek better jobs, “only about eight cars showed up and a couple of them just drove in and back out again.” A job fair was also scheduled for Tuesday to seek replacements for the employees who haven’t returned to work.
Theriault noted that replacements could be hired, but if the customers continue their support, there will be no one to purchase the food. He added that the drivers have said they also will continue to stay away, so there’ll be no deliveries.
“There’s usually 120 trucks a day leaving that warehouse,” Theriault said. “We only got three deliveries in the last two weeks.
“They can threaten to hire other people or to promise to give better jobs to those current employees who will go in today, but no self-respecting Market Basket employee will go there,” Morse said. “We’re a family and we stick together.”