Market Basket's co-chief executives Thursday told store managers they "should plan to" schedule all their full-time employees for full-time schedules next week after several managers warned plummeting sales would force them to cut most of them, clearing up the status of the roughly 5,000 employees still working for the company whose hours were in jeopardy.
Co-CEO Felicia Thornton in an email sent to all store directors shortly after noon said that full-time employees will not be laid off. She also directed them to plan to have employees remove signs not directly related to store business and not required by law to be posted.
Store managers said they would have had to cut full-time hours next week to align payroll with sales, which many managers have said have dropped off by 90 percent since a boycott gripped the company.
"We are not laying off full-time associates," Thornton wrote in the email. "You should plan to have your full-time associates work next week and receive the hours required to maintain their full-time status."
Last week, store managers eliminated hours for thousands of part-time employees, who make up the majority of the company's total workforce, because of the drop in sales.
"As has always been the case, store directors' prioritization of scheduling full-time associates is a critical element of successfully delivering outstanding customer service and achieving store performance goals," Thornton wrote. "The current, and unprecedented, situation for our business, associates, customers and vendors has obviously affected the traditional production metrics."
Thornton also said store managers should "plan to have your associates" remove all signs from the stores, including the "Boycott Market Basket" signs and donation requests for the warehouse and truck drivers' fund.
Those employees walked off the job July 18, a move that left no one to unload perishable goods, no one to deliver them, and store shelves empty throughout the 71-store chain. Other employees and customers have donated more than $100,000 for the warehouse workers and drivers as of Thursday evening.
Joe Amaral, manager of the North Andover Market Basket, said Thursday's directive left them "in a real quandary here."
"We've been instructed to make payroll," Amaral said. "In order to make payroll we need to schedule projected hours accordingly." He said most of his 47 full-time employees would have had their hours eliminated as well if not for Thornton's Thursday email.
On Aug. 1, Thornton told store managers "to schedule staff levels necessary to serve your current customer base and maintain store conditions."
Stephanie Schwechheimer, manager of the Market Basket on Water Street in Haverhill, said several managers contacted the CEOs asking for guidance on what to do about their full-time staff after realizing they would not make payroll next week.
"I was surprised after her first directive instructing us to make payroll, she sent this directive as a follow up telling us to schedule our full-timers when clearly we explained to her we will not make payroll if we schedule full-timers next week," Schwechheimer said.
As for planning to remove the signs, which include posters of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and pleas to boycott the stores, Amaral said he would leave anything the customers wanted on the walls and windows.
"We run our stores like we've been trained to," Amaral said. "We've been trained to run them like the owner would. Any kind of customer participation that adds flavor to our store, we work that into the fabric of the store. If a customer wants to add something, I'll allow it. I'll run the store as I see fit."
Schwechheimer said she would "plan on doing it."
"I believe the exact to wording means, plan to have your associates take down the signs," she said.
But both hinted they were optimistic for a resolution in the near future. "Read between the lines," Schwechheimer said.
The board of directors of Demoulas Super Markets, which owns Market Basket, on June 23 dismissed Demoulas. Employees rallied to demand for his return on July 18, and the company fired eight senior supervisors responsible for the protest on July 20. Employees and customers since have protested headquarters in Tewksbury and held rallies, vowing to shut down the company unless Demoulas is rehired.
Demoulas is in negotiations with his cousin and rival Arthur S. Demoulas to buy out Arthur S. and his side of the family, who own 50.5 percent of the company.
The board of directors has said it is considering Arthur T.'s offer among others. In a flurry of press releases last weekend, Arthur T., Arthur S. and several board members indicated their main obstacles are financing of a deal and the status of Arthur T., who offered to go back to work immediately, while any deal is finalized.
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