UPDATED: Thousands of Market Basket part-timers told not to report to work; company says it's not a layoff
BY MICHAEL COUSINEAU New Hampshire Union Leader
Carolyn Turnquist, right, of Manchester, a part-time cashier, was notified Thursday there are no hours for her. She's shown here with a group of protesters in front of Market Basket on Elm Street in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
Thousands of part-time Market Basket employees in New Hampshire have been told not to report to work next week, but co-CEO Felicia Thornton said they are not being laid off.
"All Store Directors are to let their associates know that they are not laid off," Thornton said in a statement. "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."
The New Hampshire Union Leader has confirmed at least 3,000 part-time workers in New Hampshire have had all their hours cut for next week’s schedule.
Gov. Maggie Hassan on Thursday estimated that company’s part-time workforce totaled nearly 8,000 in New Hampshire across about 30 stores. Statements from the governor and the state Attorney General’s Office referenced laid-off workers.
Some store managers interviewed Thursday called the move layoffs while others referred to them only as cuts in hours.
Steve Paulenka, a top organizer of recent worker rallies who lives in Londonderry, said an estimated 20,000 part-timers working in the chain’s 71 stores across three states were expected to be affected.
"If you know anyone at the unemployment office, they better put on a second shift," Paulenka said.
Store managers said they were cutting all part-timer’s hours, effective Sunday, in an effort to better match payroll with cash-register receipts amid a customer boycott that has reduced sales by up to 96 percent at some locations.
Manchester store manager Peter Gulezian said he gave notices to 240 part-time workers.
"People were crying. They just couldn’t believe what’s happening to them," said Gulezian, who has been with Market Basket 31 years. "In the history of our company, we’ve never had to do this."
Gulezian said 65 to 70 full-time workers and managers work at the store, but sales are not enough to keep them employed.
"I’m still not going to achieve my payroll rate," he said. "I guess my next step is to lay off my full-time workers and managers. That could come the following week."
Several workers were picketing along Manchester’s Elm Street.
"It stinks for us," said Melissa Noel, who works at the front end and has been at Market Basket for six months. She makes $8 an hour and usually got 20 to 25 hours a week. She said her husband is disabled: his paycheck covers rent and the car payment. Her check is supposed to provide food and pay other bills. She expects her initial unemployment claim will be denied, and she will have to appeal, a process that could take four to six weeks.
"Where are we going to come up with the money? We still have rent, still have bills," the Manchester resident said. "A lot of us, we live paycheck to paycheck."
Attorney General Joseph Foster reported that his office was 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.
"Unlike the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office does not handle employment issues; New Hampshire Employment Security and the New Hampshire Department of Labor do," Foster said.
Affected workers can call 1-800-266-2252 or 223-6126 for unemployment questions and claims. Also the Attorney General’s Office does not handle unemployment claims or wage-and-hour issues. Those questions should be directed to the state Department of Labor at 271-3176.
The Nashua store at 375 Amherst St. eliminated all hours for about 380 part-time workers, according to Store Director Marty Maguire.
"We have very upset employees," Maguire said. "We have employees crying and begging me for hours. Some of these households, that’s the only income."
The Londonderry store is cutting all hours for 470 part-time workers, according to Jim Theriault, a site manager.
"This is going to be pretty devastating for many of them," he said.
The Hooksett store is cutting hours for all 297 part-time positions, according to Store Director Ray Castles. The store is keeping 33 full-time workers and 16 managers.
The Stratham store is cutting all hours to all 200 part-time workers to help cut payroll because the store’s business is down as much as 96 percent, according to Store Director Dean Clevesy.
"It’s mathematically impossible to make payroll," he said.
He has seen the reaction mixed among the affected workers.
"We’ve had good and bad," he said. "Some people are accepting. Other people very sad. A lot of tears. Heart-broken."
Epping Store Director Cindy Whelan said the 350 to 375 part-timers there will get no hours next week. Also, fewer than 10 full-time workers will go from 40 to 38 hours next week but maintain their eligibility for health insurance, she said.
"I didn’t think it would come to this ever," Whelan said. "We were accustomed to a sense of security under the leadership of (Arthur T. Demoulas) and it’s actually shock and awe."
Workers want company shareholders to return Demoulas to his position of running the company again. He has put in a bid to buy the remaining 50.5 percent of the family that his side of the family doesn’t control.
Market Basket executives have said they are weighing offers from him and other potential suitors.
Kenny Caira, manager at the Market Basket at 34 Northwest Blvd. in Nashua, said he has 280 part-time workers who will not be scheduled to work next week.
"The morale is getting pretty bad at this point," Caira said. "The kids are getting pretty upset, and they just don’t understand why this is happening."
While there is a mix of younger and older part-time employees, Caira said most of the staff is young adults who depend on the work hours and income.
At another Nashua store at 261 Daniel Webster Highway, 500 part-timers won’t get any hours next week, according to store manager Scott Marsden.
"It is heart-wrenching," he said. " I have known some of these guys for 12 or 14 years. It is heart-wrenching to see them in tears."
Customers have been boycotting stores for weeks, siding with workers and cutting cash register receipts by 90 percent or more, according to store managers, in support of returnining ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to his position with the company.
Paulenka said he can’t understand how company management could conduct a three-day job fair this week after sending out a directive to store directors on Aug. 1 telling them their staffing needs to be better aligned with their store sales.
"How the hell can they have a job fair looking for more people when your own directive says to get rid of people?" asked Paulenka.
Reporters Mark Hayward and Dan Tuohy as well as correspondents Kimberly Houghton and April Guilmet contributed to this report.