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Market Basket part-time employees’ hours eliminated

On Sunday, Corey Browne and a group of other grocery clerks from the Fort Eddy Road Market Basket in Concord will be playing games in the sun at Funspot in Laconia. They might as well enjoy the summer weather a little, they said.

“It’s not like we have to work,” Browne said with a half-hearted chuckle.

Market Basket store directors in Concord and across the region have not scheduled any part-time employees for work as of Sunday. A customer boycott has driven revenue down 90 percent, they said, and meeting their budgets meant cutting hours to match.

When employees began reporting to the media that they had been laid off, executives issued a statement contradicting them: “All Store Directors are 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,” co-CEO Felicia Thornton wrote in a statement.

“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,” a company spokesperson said in an email.

Browne, 17, worked about 28 hours during a normal week at the grocery store earlier this summer, he said. Last week, he worked eight, and this week, none.

He’s one of an estimated 8,000 part-time Market Basket workers in New Hampshire. Many have been protesting in front of their stores – on their own time – since the ouster of longtime CEO Arthur T. Demoulas in June. Market Basket operates 71 stores in New England, including 29 in New Hampshire.

About 200 of the Fort Eddy Road store’s 300 employees are part time, and all of them received no hours for next week, said Jim Netto, assistant store director.

Almost all – 100 out of 115 – workers at the Storrs Street Market Basket are part time, said store Director Brian Boucher.

With revenue down 90 percent, he has not scheduled any part-time hours for next week, “to even attempt to meet budget,” he said. “I know I won’t meet it anyway, but to even attempt it, I have to do this.”

Employees with reduced hours may qualify for state unemployment assistance, and many were given packets of information compiled by the Department of Labor in anticipation of layoffs or hour reductions at the chain, said Commissioner George Copadis.

“This was a situation we hoped would work out, but something we wanted to be prepared for,” Copadis said yesterday.

The packets told employees how to file for unemployment online from home, and they included locations of local unemployment offices for people who don’t have computers or internet access, he said.

His department plans to move staff to offices near Market Basket locations next week in case of an influx of applicants, he said. The state’s unemployment trust fund is currently $287 million; benefits paid out vary based on the individual, but average $280 per week, he said.

“In the CEO’s statement, they were so careful to make sure we weren’t laid off. They tried to make it our fault again, saying we weren’t showing up when it’s the customers who are boycotting,” said Austin Johnson, a 27-year-old deli worker at the Fort Eddy Road store.

“I’m not getting paid. That means to me, I’m laid off,” he said, holding a sign outside the store urging customers to shop elsewhere until Arthur T. is in control again.

Employees and customers believe the board removed Arthur T. as the first step toward raising prices and slashing wages and benefits.

Since his removal sparked protests that ground the $4.6 billion company to a halt, he has offered to buy the 50.5 percent of the company owned by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, an offer the board of directors has said it is considering, among others.

The parent company of Hannaford supermarkets, Delhaize Group of Belgium, has also submitted a bid for controlling shares in the company, according to published reports.

Johnson, Browne and other young employees joked while holding their protest signs that they put no faith in the speculation. They’re waiting for Arthur T. to win, and there is no backup plan.

“This is what we signed up for,” Johnson said. “This is an attack on an already-shrinking middle class. This is the last stand.”

Behind him, on the glass doors of the store, customers had covered the windows with receipts from their shopping trips elsewhere.

One showed a purchase of $103.89. Another, $232.57. Another showed a purchase of one six-pack of beer, for $4.51. It’s not much, but it’s $4.51 not spent at Market Basket.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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