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The Boston Globe

Business

Part-time hours eliminated at some Market Basket stores

Market Basket protesters made their feelings known as potential employees attended a job fair in Andover Wednesday.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Market Basket protesters made their feelings known as potential employees attended a job fair in Andover Wednesday.

Market Basket is eliminating work hours altogether for thousands of part-time employees because of the steep drop-off in business that has followed the stand-off between rival factions of the Demoulas family, which owns the supermarket chain.

Managers at multiple Market Basket stores said most of their part-time employees will not have any hours to work next week; in New Hampshire alone, Gov. Maggie Hassan estimated that Market Basket has some 8,000 part-time employees, and that those who end up not working could be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

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At the Market Basket in Portsmouth, N.H., for example, about two-thirds of the staff—some 200 employees—are part-time, and won’t be working at all next week.

“My part-time force has been eliminated entirely,” said store manager Matthew Matson.

RELATED: Hannaford parent company a rival bidder for Market Basket

The cut in hours was the result of a directive to store managers from company executives that employee work schedules must reflect the flow of business at the supermarkets. And with aisles of empty shelves in the fresh food departments and few to no customers, there isn’t much business to support a typical payroll of hundreds of employees at each of the chain’s stores.

In a statement, the company’s co-chief executives, James Gooch and Felicia Thornton, said none of the workers are being laid off and they still remain employees of Market Basket.

The statement from Gooch and Thornton issued through a spokesman said:

“The CEOs have said they would welcome back all associates in an effort to return to full operations for the benefit of Market Basket’s customers, associates, vendors and communities. Toward that end, they have told Store Directors to receive deliveries and stock their shelves. Standard company practice is that Store Directors are responsible for determining appropriate staffing levels in their stores. Store Directors were not instructed to lay off associates, but to adjust hours to meet current demand. It is our hope that we will be back to normal business levels in the not too distant future and all associates will be back to a full schedule.”

However, several store managers told the Globe they feared they would be fired if they did not strictly follow the company’s policy on scheduling work hours, which inevitably would result in no shifts for many employees.

Several of the affected employees said they were anxious and disappointed at the loss of work.

“I’m just so confused about the whole situation,” said Rhian Kuver, 19, a part-time worker at a Market Basket store in Haverhill. “Now I have to find an alternative job to get me through the school year, because I can’t not work.”

Most Market Basket workers are part-time and they are bearing the brunt of the cutbacks. Managers said the directive to reduce staff hours is forcing them to choose between part-time and full-time employees, who stand to lose access to benefits if their hours go below certain levels. For now, many managers said they are giving what little work is available to the full-time workers. “Whether that’s right or wrong, we don’t know,” said Matson, the Market Basket manager in Portsmouth. “This is uncharted. We’ve never done this before.”

RELATED: Market Basket’s only solution is to bring back Arthur T. Demoulas

In Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has established a hotline to help Market Basket employees with their work situation.

Some Demoulas part-timers have taken jobs at other supermarkets, including Hannaford Bros. Co.

Meanwhile, Hannaford’s parent, Belgium-based Delhaize Group, is offering to buy part or all of Market Basket, which competes with it in markets throughout New England, said people familiar with the negotiations. The offer is competing with the bid of Arthur T. Demoulas, the ousted president, who is trying to buy out his relatives and regain control of the company.

Arthur T. Demoulas was fired in June by the company’s board of directors, which is controlled by his cousin and rival, Arthur S. Demoulas Arthur T. has not offered to sell the 49.5 percent owned by his side of the family.

Market Basket’s board of directors has only said it is evaluating several offers. A spokesman for Hannaford could not be reached for comment.

The competition could make it more difficult for Arthur T. to regain control of the business, especially given his strained relationship with Arthur S. and other relatives who have rebuffed his efforts to reach a sale agreement and repair its operations.

Globe reporter Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
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