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August 07. 2014 8:12PM

Market Basket cuts hours for up to 8,000 workers

As many as 8,000 part-time employees at Market Basket stores across New Hampshire will not report to work next week as store managers complied with a company directive to slash payroll to better match withering cash-register receipts.

Many single parents, college students and senior citizens will not collect any paychecks later this month after most store managers Thursday posted drastically slashed work schedules for next week.

Those cuts included a married couple in their late 70s — she bags groceries at the checkout and he collects the carts in the parking lot at the Plaistow store. Each averages 28 hours a week to help pay the mortgage.

“They count on that money to keep their house,” said Dan Salois, the assistant store director. “It’s a pretty rotten day.”

Some employees had to leave work before completing their shifts. Tears were reported in many store aisles.

“It started as a fight in the board room, and now it’s escalating to where it’s hurting my most vulnerable employees,” said Michael Luciano, Swanzey’s assistant store director.

Gov. Maggie Hassan estimated close to 8,000 people work part-time at Market Basket. The grocery store is one of the state’s largest private employers, rivaled only by Wal-Mart.

A Union Leader survey of store directors confirmed more than 6,600 part-timers at 24 Granite State stores — about 80 percent of the state’s stores — will get no scheduled hours beginning Sunday. Some stores are keeping a handful of part-timers, while others are trimming full-timers by three to as many as 10 hours a week.

Avoiding the word ‘layoff’

The state’s busiest store by volume, at 265 South Broadway in Salem, will cut all hours for 520 part-time workers. The Nashua store on D.W. Highway will idle 500 part-timers. Others include 470 in Londonderry, 297 in Hooksett and about 400 combined at the two Concord stores.

Hours after the news broke in the individual stores, Market Basket co-CEO Felicia Thornton said people shouldn’t consider the action a layoff.

“All store directors are to let their associates know that they are not laid off,” Thornton said in a statement. “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 DSM.”

But several store managers couldn’t avoid using the L-word.

“How you can not schedule 200 people for however long it takes and not be laid off?” said Tilton Store Director Mike LeClair. “It’s just a matter of language. If you don’t get any hours, technically you’re being laid off. No matter what the vernacular you use, it’s the same thing.”

Steve Paulenka, a top organizer of recent worker rallies who lives in Londonderry, estimated 20,000 part-timers working in the chain’s 71 stores across three states were expected to be affected.

“If you know anyone at the unemployment office, they better put on a second shift,” Paulenka said.

Workers, wanting the return of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, have picketed stores and convinced more than 90 percent of store customers to boycott the grocery aisles.

Crying in the aisles

Epping Store Director Cindy Whelan said she “broke down in tears” when she told her staff, meaning no hours for 350 to 375 part-timers. And she said store directors can’t balance the payroll enough even with the cut in part-timers to meet the directive.

“You have to wonder if sabotage is involved” in setting up store directors to fail, Whelan said. “Even if you just schedule the managers and full-time employees, there’s no way in hell I can make my full payroll rate.”

Manchester store manager Peter Gulezian said he informed some of the 240 part-time workers set to get all their hours cut.

“People were crying. They just couldn’t believe what’s happening to them,” said Gulezian, who has been with Market Basket 31 years. “In the history of our company, we’ve never had to do this.”

Gulezian said sales aren’t high enough to justify paying 65 to 70 full-time workers and managers there.

“I guess my next step is to lay off my full-time workers and managers,” he said. “That could come the following week.”

‘It stinks for us’

Several workers were picketing along Manchester’s Elm Street.

“It stinks for us,” said Melissa Noel, who has worked at Market Basket for six months. She makes $8 an hour and usually got 20 to 25 hours a week. She said her husband is disabled: His paycheck covers rent and the car payment. Her check is supposed to provide food and pay other bills. She expects her initial unemployment claim will be denied, and she will have to appeal, a process that could take four to six weeks.

“Where are we going to come up with the money? We still have rent, still have bills,” the Manchester resident said. “A lot of us, we live paycheck to paycheck.”

Paulenka said he can’t understand how the company management could conduct a three-day job fair this week after sending out a directive to store directors on Aug. 1 telling them their staffing needs to be better aligned with their store sales.

“How the hell can they have a job fair looking for more people when your own directive says to get rid of people?” Paulenka said.

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Union Leader Staff Writers Mark Hayward and Dan Tuohy and Correspondents Kimberly Houghton, Meghan Pierce, April Guilmet and Cassidy Swanson contributed to this report.



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