Market Basket part-timers still out of work

Supermarket chain, employees still in limbo after weekend meeting to consider $1.5 billion offer by Artie T. falls through

While a few of their counterparts have returned to Market Basket stores in Massachusetts, none of the part-time workers at the Rindge store have been called back to work, after talks about a possible sale of the company to ousted former President Arthur T. Demoulas broke down over the weekend.

“We haven’t contacted part-timers,” said Bill Dube, manager of the Rindge Market Basket, on Monday. “A lot of them have been calling. We’re waiting for a call from the main office. We’re telling them that as soon as we hear, we’ll give them a call. We’re at a loss at the store level right now.”

Last week, Arthur T. Demoulas, whose side of the family owns 49.5 percent of the chain, offered to buy the other 50.5 percent owned by members of the side of family that support his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. Market Basket operates 71 supermarkets in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine,

A long-standing family feud came to head in June, when Arthur T. Demoulas was fired as president by the Market Basket Board of Directors. Arthur T. had pushed for low prices and generous wages and benefits for employees, which put him at odds with his cousin and other board members who wanted greater return on investment for stockholders.

The firing of Arthur T. prompted an immediate walkout by warehouse workers, which resulted in stores having very limited items to sell. Market Basket employees also demonstrated outside most stores, urging customers to shop elsewhere until Arthur T. was brought back. Many workers also attended rallies in July outside the company’s Tewksbury, Mass., headquarters.

In response, Market Basket executives in early August told store managers not to schedule hours for any part-time employees, a decision that affected nearly 250 workers at the Rindge location.

The grocery store chain has not laid off full-time workers in its stores, although several senior-level managers who had helped organize the initial protests were fired in July.

“We’re starting off our sixth week now,” Dube said, referring to the amount of time that the store has been understocked. “It isn’t good for the associates or for the customers. We’ve got to get the ball rolling again.”

Dube described the inventory at the Rindge store as “very slim.”

“There’s still no produce, no seafood, no meat mostly,” he said. “Deli items are very lean. We’re still getting things in, but it’s minor quantities compared to what it used to be.”

Dube said the Rindge store usually buys a lot of bread from local vendors, as well as getting bread through the Market Basket warehouse. But the area bakeries have stopped supplying bread, he said, because with so few customers in the store, the bread wasn’t selling and they were having to take merchandise back once expiration dates were reached.

“I can’t blame them,” Dube said about the local suppliers. “They were bringing it in and taking it out. So our bread vendors are non-existent at this time.”

The number of customers in the store is far below normal, Dube said, but some of those who do come in say it’s because they don’t want to pay the higher prices found elsewhere.”

“The few that are coming in are buying whatever they can here,” he said. “The doors are open. We’re welcoming them in.”

Arthur T. Demoulas has offered $1.5 billion to buy out the portion of the company owned by his cousin and other family members. A board meeting had been scheduled for Sunday night, but it was called off at the last minute, although both sides of the family had earlier expressed hope that an agreement could be reached over the weekend.

Dube said he hopes the deadlock can be resolved soon.

“It’s getting to be a little old,” he said. “We hope they can get a purchase-and-sale agreement settled so we can get back to business.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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