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Boycott aimed at Market Basket board hurting workers, too

At least 14 part-time Market Basket workers accepted positions at Hannaford supermarkets over the weekend, a sign that the three-week standoff is beginning to take a financial toll on employees as well as the supermarket chain.

Hannaford confirmed the hirings Monday, saying it would welcome additional Market Basket workers looking for a permanent job change or just temporary employment until the labor dispute is resolved.

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“This is certainly a win-win for everyone,” Kevin Cormier, a human resources manager for Hannaford, wrote in a Facebook message. “They can resume an income source while still standing strong for their beliefs, we get great associates to help us with the influx of customers, and the [Market Basket] customers in our stores are going to have familiar faces to greet them as they become acclimated to unfamiliar surroundings.”

Market Basket workers demanding the return of ousted president Arthur T. Demoulas boast that their protest movement is costing company management about $10 million per day. But store managers say they have been forced to drastically reduce hours given to part-time workers in response to a memorandum from new chief executives Felicia Thornton and James Gooch. With business slowed to a trickle, managers have been ordered to adjust staffing levels accordingly.

The shift cuts represent a sudden, harmful side effect for workers, who at rallies and through social media have urged loyal customers to boycott Market Basket stores in hopes that falling revenues would compel the company’s board of directors to reinstate their former president.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Market Basket workers protested Monday in Andover at a job fair.

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Instead the board — controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas, Arthur T.’s cousin and rival — rejected Arthur T.’s offer Sunday to resume leadership of Market Basket while terms of a possible sale are negotiated.

The ability of Market Basket’s board to hold to its position, while workers bend to economic realities, reveals an imbalance of power in the public struggle for control of the company, said Ted Clark, director of the Center for Family Business at Northeastern University.

“If you’re an hourly employee and you lose a paycheck, that hurts,” Clark said. “But a guy with as much money as Arthur S. can hold out for a long time.”

Steve Paulenka, one of the protest organizers, said it is unfortunate that some workers have lost hours at Market Basket and resorted to seeking alternative employment. But he disputed the notion that workers are hurting themselves by advocating a boycott, putting the blame squarely on management.

Besides, he argued, “sometimes there’s something so right that you have to do it, even if it hurts.”

Paulenka, a facilities and operations supervisor who spent 40 years at Market Basket, was fired two weeks ago.

Executives’ staffing edict has put managers in a difficult position when it comes to scheduling full-time workers, too, said Paul Gauthier , manager of a Market Basket in Westford. The company uses a formula to calculate staffing levels, based on anticipated weekly revenues. The formula varies from store to store, but in Westford Gauthier is expected to generate $162 in revenue for every hour of work he gives to an employee.

Revenues are so low right now, he said, that the formula suggests he should not even keep his assistant managers and department heads on full-time duty, let alone other full-time and part-time employees. Like managers at many of Market Basket’s 71 locations, however, Gauthier has refused to trim hours for full-time staff.

“I’ve been given an impossible task,” he said. “I’m waiting for [top executives] to say, ‘You’re not doing your job. See ya.’ ”

A Market Basket spokesman said store managers who accept new food deliveries, restock their shelves, and make good-faith efforts to return to normal operations should have no trouble generating enough revenue to keep their staffs on the clock and protect their own jobs.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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