Ray Duckler: Thanks, Shaw’s says to longtime employee ... and goodbye
Sue Carter poses for a portrait at her home in Concord; November 8, 2012. Carter lost her job at Shaws after working there for 25 years. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Dear Team Member” begins the letter with the warmth of
a draft notice.
“. . . Regretfully, I must inform you that due to your position, location and length of service, your position has been identified for layoff effective immediately.”
The letter said more, essentially warning Sue Carter about the door hitting her in the tush on the way out of Shaw’s last Friday.
After 25 years.
No warning. No severance. No appreciation.
“The ‘team member’ reference is one of the things that made me so mad,” said Carter, sitting in her Concord kitchen, in front of a plate of oatmeal cookies. “Twenty-five years and then getting laid off with no severance pay was bad, but, seriously, they could have put your name on it.”
Carter is one of 700 employees let go recently by the struggling New England grocery chain, which is based in West Bridgewater, Mass., and has 169 stores.
She felt the sting of what she believed was unfair and disrespectful treatment, so she contacted the news media to tell her story.
“I’m positive they’re not going to be hiring me back,” Carter said. “If I wasn’t positive, I would not have called you, because I’m probably burning my bridges.”
Those bridges are in flames after what happened to Carter, who had worked at the Fort Eddy Shaw’s since 1987, when she and her husband, Joe, moved here from Maine.
She loved her job, and she loved the people she worked with.
She worked in customer service, then as a cashier, then, most recently, in flower sales, a one-woman department of arranging and watering and taking orders and making young couples in love happy.
She’s worked the graveyard shift, and she’s always worked holidays, turning into one of the busiest and most popular local employees on Valentine’s Day, Easter and other holidays in which flowers are so vital.
She’d heard rumors after the chain’s managers met at headquarters, then learned those managers had been told to stay away from work until further notice.
Carter had Nov. 2 off from work. The Fort Eddy manager called and told her to come in. She dipped her toe into the water, hoping for reassurance or a chuckle from him by saying, “Boy, this can’t be good news.”
When the manager stayed silent, Carter knew.
She rushed to the store and saw a colleague meeting in the office while another, crying, had already gotten bad news, an offer to move to the Hillsboro store or quit. Others were told it would be North Conway, or Springfield, Vt., or Lancaster, or bust. Five Fort Eddy workers were affected, Carter said.
“A lot of people got offered other jobs, but I think they wanted you to quit,” Carter said. “It makes you look better in the press if it says that some people were offered other jobs.”
Carter wasn’t one of those people. She met for 15 minutes, then, rather than being shown the door immediately, was given the opportunity to say goodbye to co-workers, a reward for her dedicated work.
“Shaw’s deeply regrets the personal impact that decisions to eliminate positions has on Shaw’s team members,” the letter concludes. “We thank you for your past service and wish you the best as we make these changes.”
The form letter has a photocopied signature from Mike Stigers, the president of the corporation. Stigers is not fielding questions from the press.
That role belongs to Steve Sylven of the public relations department.
Why such an impersonal farewell for longtime workers?
“I can’t comment specifically on how it was handled with this particular associate,” Sylven said, “but I do believe there was a letter that came along as part of a packet that everyone received who was impacted. The personal aspect I guess is the interaction that comes with the store director.”
What about severance pay and benefits?
“I need to get back to you on that.”
Why not two weeks’ notice?
“I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the how or why we did it, or the timing of it, other than to say it was a business decision and came from several factors, the biggest of which is the continued competitive environment that we operate in.”
Carter shops at Market Basket now. She and her husband, a retired factory manager, are okay financially, for now, but Carter is looking into unemployment and her options with her 401K and retirement accounts. She’ll also start looking for work soon.
She left Shaw’s with a check for $1,139 and a few framed certificates, patting her on the back as the Associate of the Year in 2009, and another award for the $25,753 worth of flowers she sold on Valentine’s Day in ’05.
She even had her picture published in the Shaw’s newsletter.
“I just feel like after 25 years they should have given me some notice,” Carter said. “They could have given us stickin’ severance pay. They could have given us something.”