BROCKTON (CBS) – The employee revolt at Market Basket took a devastating turn Thursday as stores began reducing part-time workers hours to zero, in a move the company insisted were not layoffs.
“A lot of people are shedding a tear today. I have never seen it worse,” Glenn Connor, the manager of the Brockton store on Westgate Drive, told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
“Layoff was a word that (the company) stayed away from,” he said.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, CEO Felicia Thornton told all store directors “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 (Demoulas Supermarkets).”
The move to cut hours prompted Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to establish a support hotline for employees.
Coakley said her office had “received more than 100 calls over the last 24 hours,” and they expect more in the next few days. The hotline number is (617) 963-2400.
“We’re dramatically slashing our schedules and our budgets,” Connor told WBZ. “People are not getting the hours they are accustomed to.”
A Market Basket spokesperson released this statement Thursday:
“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.”
Connor said the moves are a “paradox” to the job fair the company held earlier this week to hire new employees.
“I just wonder what’s going on. All the years I’ve worked for the company, it’s just not the way we’ve done things,” he said.
Jenifer Gutierrez has gone from 32 hours a week to 17 hours and now uncertainty at her part-time Market Basket job. “It’s upsetting, it’s the only job I have. Next week I have no hours, no job and nowhere to go,” she tells WBZ-TV.
Eric D’Avolio, a store manager in Tewksbury, was devastated to deliver the news. “How do you tell a kid I have no hours to give you. He looks at you and says how do I pay for school, gas for my car, and car insurance,” he said. At D’Avolio’s store they’ve gone from 27,000 to 500 customers a day, and while fourteen registers would normally be up and running, they now need only two.
David MacDonald says it feels like a layoff. “I think they’re trying to pretty it up,” he says.
Market Basket workers and customers have rallied since mid-July for the return of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. The revolt has led to empty shelves and a drastic drop in revenue at all 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
“We are staying loyal to the company, the company that was run by Arthur T. and his father,” Connor said. “I believe when Arthur T. comes back, that’s what it takes, and we’ll be able to put this all back together.”
“We’re going to monitor this very closely, including with the attorney general in New Hampshire because of so many stores up there,” Coakley said.
“Although our laws are a little different, we both feel that the workers need to be treated fairly and they need to know what their rights are if they are terminated. We want to be clear to the employers, we’re going to held them to the letter of the law on this,” she said.
“Market Basket is a major employer in Massachusetts, and we remain hopeful that the parties will come together to reach a positive resolution and restore the vibrancy of the business,” Coakley said.
Workers who believe any of their rights have been violated can file a formal complaint with the Massachusetts Fair Labor Division.
More information about the state’s wage and hour laws is also available at massworkrights.com.
WBZ NewsRadio’s Kendall Buhl reports