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Market Basket managers ordered to take down protest signs

A wall of receipts from competing stores at the Market Basket in Nashua.

Matt Hogan for The Boston Globe

A wall of receipts from competing stores at the Market Basket in Nashua.

With the Market Basket work stoppage and consumer boycott concluding its fourth week, an online fundraiser for protesting Market Basket employees passed a significant milestone, while store directors were instructed Thursday to take down signs of protest and allow normal business to take place.

Online donations to a fund set up by former Market Basket employees to support truck drivers, warehouse workers, and office staff have passed $100,000. Although the amount was originally described as a goal, organizer Steve Paulenka said the group is still seeking donations.

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“We’re way too far out on the ice now to turn back. We’ll stick to it,” said Paulenka, a fired Market Basket supervisor who has organized daily protests outside the company’s Tewksbury headquarters.

The donation that put the fund over its goal was a $6,000 contribution from Yell-O-Glow, a Everett-based banana ripener and grocery supplier that works with Market Basket stores.

“Yell-o-Glow supports Artie T and the Market Basket employees,” said George Koshivas, the company’s controller.

About 200 Market Basket workers who walked off the job in July were notified in letters from the company’s co-chief executives Monday that they had until Friday, August 15, to return to work or be fired. Those employees said they would defy the order, however, with some workers believing that Market Basket’s top management would not follow through.

Another 200 employees received a similar letter on Tuesday, telling them to report to work next Monday or be fired.

Although protest leaders declined to give a total for their fundraising efforts, Paulenka said they had raised enough money online, in stores, and by mailed-in checks to distribute a second round of $200 checks to the nearly 700 Market Basket employees who walked off their jobs in July. In-store collections alone amounted to at least $50,000, he said.

But those collections may soon dry up. Market Basket store directors were instructed Thursday afternoon company by co-chief executives Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch to stop taking donations for the fund for workers who walked off their jobs. They were also told to have their employees take down protest signs and receipts from competitors that have been taped to store windows by boycotting customers.

Store directors were defiant, however, with some taking interpretive license with the email to avoid complying with the CEOs’ orders.

“It says we have to ‘plan’ to have our associates do all the following. It says ‘plan to.’ It doesn’t say do it,” said Stephanie Schwechheimer, who directs a Market Basket in Haverhill. “I plan on doing it. Just not right away.”

The e-mail from Thornton and Gooch also told store directors to keep full-time employees scheduled full-time, even if it went against normal payroll policies.

Business at Market Basket remained slow, according to store directors, as did the pace of deliveries.

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