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Mass., N.H. AGs remind Market Basket of worker rights

Protesters yelled at a driver of a Market Basket truck during a demonstration at the company’s headquarters Wednesday.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Protesters yelled at a driver of a Market Basket truck during a demonstration at the company’s headquarters Wednesday.

The attorneys general of Massachusetts and New Hampshire jumped into the fight over Market Basket Thursday, urging the company’s management to respect the rights of employees who may be fired in coming days.

In a letter, attorneys general Martha Coakley and Joseph Foster said that the company’s employment decisions could have broad implications for the region’s economy. The letter was addressed to Market Basket’s co-chief executives James Gooch and Felicia Thornton and the chairman of its board, Keith Cowan.

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Gooch and Thornton have moved to break a walkout by the supermarket chain’s employees, telling them late Wednesday that workers could be terminated if they do not return to their jobs by Monday. Many employees have refused to return to work until Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated as president of the company.

Coakley and Foster said the threat of firings by Gooch and Thornton had resulted in an uptick in calls to their offices from concerned Market Basket workers.

“Your decisions of course directly impact thousands of employees and thousands of customers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire,” the letter said. “Those decisions also have serious implications for the many small businesses that supply your stores or otherwise rely on a close business relationship with Market Basket for their livelihood. Please keep all of these impacted persons in mind as you chart the course for Market Basket.”

The letter notified Gooch and Thornton of legal requirements that they pay any terminated employees their last wages in a timely manner.

In a statement later Thursday, Gooch and Thornton said they hoped they would not have to replace any Market Basket workers.

“We have said several times that we hope sincerely that we do not discharge any employees,” they said. “We want our associates back. We are focused solely on getting Market Basket stores back up and running for our customers and, importantly, for the many local vendors that rely on Market Basket to make their own businesses successful for the sake of their employees. We respect the Attorneys General position, and would of course follow all applicable laws.”

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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