Four weeks ago, Market Basket employees walked off the job when Arthur T. DeMoulas was fired as chief executive officer (CEO) by his cousin Arthur S. DeMoulas and was replaced with co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch.
Customers walking to the entrance of a Market Basket were greeted by employees holding placards and asking them to boycott the store for a week. “We were hoping a week was all it would take but they didn’t listen, and now we’re into four weeks and the customers are still behind us,” Greg Bonanno, an 11-year employee of the Londonderry Market Basket on Garden Lane, said Monday. “We didn’t ask them to go beyond the week when it first started, but they are showing their support to us, which is really great.”
Meanwhile, Citizens Bank representative Lauren DiGeronimo said last week that a private security guard was hired by the bank to make sure the customers of the Londonderry branch of the bank had access to it and that parking spaces were available to them, due to the number of people at the Garden Lane protest location.
Bonanno said he thinks he knows why customers support the employees in what started as a family squabble.
“If another company buys them out or if we go under, the customers know that there’ll be no incentive for Shaw’s or Hannaford’s to keep prices low, and their prices will go even higher,” Bonanno said.
Store Manager Mark Lemieux said that on Friday afternoon, the Market Basket board offered to hire Arthur T. back but with stipulations that did not make it a valid offer.
“The board who fired him and fired his management team now wants to rehire them to come back, put the company back together, so they can sell it from underneath him,” Lemieux said.
On Aug. 8, the Board of Directors said they had given Arthur T. an offer that would allow him to return and assist with “normal business operations.”
Arthur T. on Aug. 9, through his representatives said the offer was disingenuous, as he was asked to restore the business so it could be sold to another bidder.
On Aug. 10, independent directors Keith O. Cowan, Eric Gerbaide and Ronald G. Weiner responded to Arthur T.’s answer by accusing him of holding “25,000 associates and 2 million customers hostage.”
“Hostages? Hostages are taken. No one forced us to be out here and no one certainly forced the customers to be out here with us.” Bonanno said.
Matt Louzier, a manager at Market Basket, said the hours of 471 part-time employees were cut due to a directive from the CEO.
Repeated calls to Market Basket corporate headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., for comment were not answered, and Louzier said the stores have the same trouble when trying to order products. He added that Arthur T. is under a gag order.
Lemieux said he had received a directive from a CEO to “reduce hours to reflect the business of the stores. “We’re down 95 percent, 95 percent this week and last week, so I have to cut hours. They don’t call it a layoff because we were told that they are still employees of the company,” Lemieux said.
Governor Maggie Hassan has weighed in with a statement regarding the layoffs of part-time employees.
“We estimate nearly 8,000 people work part time at almost 30 Market Basket stores in New Hampshire,” she said at the end of last week. “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.
“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,” Hassan continued. “New Hampshire Employment Security has worked with store managers to ensure that affected employees know about available resources. Many employees, depending on their hours and individual circumstances, are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. We encourage employees to apply online for unemployment benefits, but I know that nothing can compare to the security of a job.”
She acknowledged that while the Market Basket issue is a private business dispute, “it is having a significant financial impact on New Hampshire – on our families, consumers, farmers and other vendors – and it will create new costs for the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund,” she said. “I continue to urge Market Basket leadership to listen to the concerns of their employees and customers and reach a constructive resolution in order to keep these dedicated workers employed and reduce the impact on consumers.”
Bonanno carried a sign on Nashua Road (Route 102) near the Garden Lane store that said “Zero hours but not laid off – I don’t understand.”
Lemieux said state employees have dropped in and given literature to the employees to tell them of their rights and what benefits they qualify for.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “Remember, this is a grass roots movement. The employees and the customers are doing this. The doors are open, we are open for business, but the customers are supporting us. There have been customers dropping off food and drinks for the people with the signs – their support is essential.”