‘Temporary layoffs’ in Rindge

Market Basket part-time employees see their hours reduced or cut in wake of boycotts

Nearly 250 part-time Rindge employees have been affected by what Market Basket Manager Bill Dube of the Rindge store is calling “temporary layoffs.” Part-timers, whose work weeks had been dwindling to a trickle of hours in past weeks, according to one employee, came to a complete stop on Thursday.

In an interview Monday, Dube said that orders came down from corporate last week to reduce hours to match the drop off in business that has followed customer boycotts and warehouse and truck driver walkouts, protesting the firing of the company’s former CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas in July. Dube said the Rindge Market Basket saw an 86.4 percent drop in purchases this past weekend.

Meanwhile, Arthur T., called “Artie T.” by the Market Basket workforce, has been negotiating a purchase of the shares of the company his family doesn’t own from his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family. The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement, with both sides accusing the other of rejecting reasonable proposals.

“We went from [employees working] 6,000 or 7,000 hours a week to 1,500 a week. I had to make a decision,” Dube said about where to cut hours. “It was a very hard decision to make as a store manager, but I had to do it. We don’t like it. The managers don’t like it, the full-timers don’t like it, the part-timers certainly don’t like it, and I don’t blame them.”

Rindge employs a total of 305 employees, with 248 of them part-time, he noted. Full-time employees are still working and receiving benefits, he said.

Some store managers waited until the weekend to officially eliminate part-timer hours, but Dube said he informed his employees on Thursday when they arrived to pick up their paychecks. He said the decision was motivated by the need to allow workers to start filing for unemployment benefits as soon as possible.

Employees feel the impact

Mike DiRubbo of Jaffrey has been a part-time dairy clerk with the Rindge store for just over three years. In a phone interview Monday, DiRubbo said he had been fearing something of this nature would happen, but was surprised at the scale of the action.

“It was definitely unexpected,” he said. “I was surprised by the whole thing. But I already hadn’t worked for a couple of weeks. In the back of my mind, I was thinking something like this might happen, I just didn’t think it would be laying off everyone.”

Dube said he informed all part-time employees that they are still Market Basket employees, and to fill out unemployment paperwork for benefits for a temporary layoff. Once the situation has been resolved and stores are back to normal workloads, part-timers will all be welcomed back to their jobs, he said. “As soon as we’re up and running, we’ll be calling them in,” he said. He encouraged workers to “keep the faith” that they would soon be working again.

DiRubbo said that he and many of his part-time coworkers are in support of Artie T., and he still hopes that at the resolution of the negotiations, Artie T. is back in charge. In the interim, however, he said he has filed for unemployment benefits and begun a job search.

Work has been sparse for DiRubbo since July 26, he said. There were rumors of trucks planning to make grocery deliveries, that would bring in work for part-timers to do, that never appeared. DiRubbo would receive calls within hours of his shifts, telling him not to come in, as there was no work for him to do. While early on, DiRubbo and other employees were able to put some hours in cleaning and doing general store maintenance, eventually, they ran out of things to clean, he said.

The lack of work has put a strain on him financially, he said, and that has led to his decision to seek other work following the news that there are no part-time hours forthcoming, despite the fact that Market Basket is the best business he’s ever worked for.

“For me, that was my main job,” said DiRubbo of his Market Basket position. “The big problem for me is that was how we paid the bills. My girlfriend’s check goes to the rent, and mine goes to the bills. I haven’t gotten a check in a couple of weeks, so it’s definitely been difficult. I’ve got to get my bills paid, and that’s the biggest thing for me. I’m hoping that Arthur T. gets the company back, but I’ve got to do what’s best for me.”

Governor Maggie Hassan issued a statement on Thursday, after reports of thousands of workers being impacted by Market Basket cuts in part-time hours. The statement estimated that 8,000 of the 9,500 people that work for New Hampshire Market Baskets could be effected.

“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. New Hampshire Employment Security has worked with store managers to ensure that affected employees know about available resources,” Hassan said in the statement. “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.”

In addition to the impact on workers and consumers, Hassan also expressed concern for the impact on the state of the sudden influx of workers seeking unemployment benefits: “While this may be 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. 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.”

Continuing shortages

Warehouse and truck driver walkouts continue to leave shelves of perishable items bare at the Market Basket in Rindge, according to Dube. Items such as meat, fish, deli, dairy, bakery and produce are essentially non-existent. The store continues to stock dry grocery goods, although they have not been receiving the daily deliveries the store once saw, said Dube.

The store is also still stocking items that it receives from vendors other than the Market Basket warehouses, such as alcohol, soda and snack items. There has been a recent issue obtaining cigarettes, said Dube, despite the fact that they are obtained from an outside vendor. That has had an impact on the Rindge store in particular, he noted, since it is a Massachusetts border store.

Ongoing negotiations

Currently, Artie T. is negotiating the purchase of 50.5 percent of Market Basket shares not owned by his side of the family. Despite more than a week of negotiating and both sides reportedly in agreement upon a price, however, there has been no agreement. Both sides have laid the blame for the failure to come to an agreement at the other’s door, with majority shareholders accusing Artie T. of negotiating in bad faith, and Arthur T. Demoulas citing untenable stipulations the deal comes with as reasons for the current impasse.

The Class A shareholders have offered to provide financing for Artie T.’s purchase, and would allow him to return to work immediately, to work collaboratively to stabilize the business, according to the statement, and consider his refusal to accept terms a sign of his unwillingness to deal.

In a response statement issued on behalf of Artie T. by a spokeswoman, Artie T. turned the accusation back on the board. According to the statement, Artie T. has made an offer for the shares at asking price, at a valuation determined pre-crisis. He’s also offered multiple times to step back in as CEO during negotiations, and to attempt to bring back his striking management team to normalize the chain once again, according to the statement.

“Thus far, his offers have been rejected, not on the basis of price, but with counter-proposals that have been laden with onerous terms that are far beyond comparable transactions,” the statement reads. “It is Arthur T. Demoulas’ hope that the Arthur S. Demoulas family will come to the table to reach a final agreement on reasonable terms before it is too late to save this company.”

The statement continued to call the offer to put Artie T. back to work in a position other than CEO as “disingenuous” and “an attempt to have him stabilize the company, while they consider selling it to another bidder.”

Both Dube and DiRubbo said they hoped that the situation would be resolved quickly, for the sake of the employees. “The big thing is I basically can’t wait for this to end. I definitely think it’s wrong that they’re holding it off this long and putting people out of jobs. I’m not the only one with bills to pay,” said DiRubbo. “Everyone, including [Current CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch] knows Market basket won’t last if Arthur T. isn’t in charge. It’s all a game to them and they’re using us as pawns. They’re just being stubborn and childish.”

Dube agreed, saying, “I really hope the two sides can get together and settle this. We’ve got to straighten this out.”

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