Jessica Pierce is one of as many as 20,000 part-time Market Basket employees who had their hours eliminated in the last week. Yet she continues to picket in front of the Gloucester store to protest the firing of company president Arthur T. Demoulas.
“It has to start somewhere, making change with corporate America,” said Pierce, 38, a cashier. “Why not here?”
But Judy Stanavich, a deli worker in a Market Basket in Nashua, is sick with worry about how she’ll support herself and her daughter, who is undergoing chemotherapy for late-stage ovarian cancer. Sacrificing her job for Arthur T. Demoulas, who she assumes has plenty of money, doesn’t make sense, she said.
“He doesn’t have to worry about making a mortgage payment or paying groceries,” said Stanavich, 62.
A month after the protests began, emptying stores of both customers and groceries, part-time workers, who make up the majority of Market Basket’s 25,000-person workforce, are bearing the brunt of the feud in the Demoulas family, which owns the 71-store chain. And as Pierce and Stanavich show, the financial pressures are creating divisions among the once unified workforce as the payless paydays stretch on.
Many still support the walkout that followed the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas, engineered by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. Others just want their jobs back.
Some are filing for unemployment and looking for work elsewhere.
At the Nashua store, employees normally put in about 8,500 hours a week, said assistant manager Caleb Owens. Last week, managers slashed those hours by more than 80 percent to 1,500, dropping 380 of 450 employees from the schedule.
The day the cuts were announced, Owens said, “People were scared. People were crying.” His manager told him it was the worst day of his career.
A spokesman for the company said Market Basket wants its employees back at work. “If these stores were operational and accepting deliveries and had customers in the stores,” the spokesman said, “the store directors would be scheduling hours for their part-timers.”
The part-time workers are a diverse lot: retirees, teachers in need of summer income, college students trying to earn extra money, mothers who work only when their kids are in school. They generally make between $8 and $10 per hour, with no benefits, managers said, but they get bonuses and 25-cent raises twice a year, as well as profit sharing.
The public has rallied behind the workers, refusing to shop at the stores and donating money to help those who have lost hours and income.
An appeal on the online fund-raising site GoFundMe has brought in more than $8,600 in donations for a 94-year-old out-of-work bagger in Stratham, N.H. Meanwhile, more than $100,000 has been raised for the truck drivers and warehouse workers who walked off the job, crippling the company’s ability to stock its shelves and bring in customers — and pay part-time workers.
In Astrid Ponce’s family, 10 people lost their incomes when Market Basket cut their hours. “We’re all unemployed now,” said Ponce, 21, a 30-hour-a-week cashier who works at the Chelsea store along with her mother, brother, uncles, aunts, and cousins. The Chelsea store, which normally employs 1,100 workers, is operating with just 100 this week.
Ponce was saving to study business administration at Bunker Hill Community College but now isn’t sure she’ll be able to attend. She lives at home, and her parents rely on the $450 a month she contributes toward rent and groceries. Her father, a warehouse worker at Logan Airport, and her brother, who has just landed a minimum-wage job at the airport, are now the only breadwinners for the family of seven.
“I don’t think leaving 25,000 employees without a job is worth it,” said Ponce, who has stopped picketing to look for work. “They need to come to an agreement. They need to leave the greed behind.”
Some employees are as concerned for their customers as for themselves. Catherine Makosiej, a 28-year-old cashier in Manchester, N.H., said her store serves many low-income families who depend on Market Basket’s low prices to stretch food stamps and other subsidies, such as the nutrition program for women and children, known as WIC.
“It hurts to have these customers coming through my line as a cashier and not having the product they need to complete their state WIC vouchers to assist in feeding their children and other family members,” said Makosiej, who, like most other part-time workers, had her hours eliminated. “I wish the Demoulas cousins could see what is really happening.”
Makosiej, who has taken on shifts at a pizza place and a potato chip vendor to make ends meet, said she is too scared to protest at Market Basket stores for fear of losing her job. But, she said, she supports “Artie T. . . . with every piece of me that I still have left.”
“I have no hours, but if this is what it takes to get him back — he’s our leader,” she said. “If he’s out, I’m out.”