Attorney General Tells Market Basket CEOs to Mind the Law

Or pay the consequences.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

After receiving an “uptick” in calls from Market Basket employees concerned about their legal rights as workers, Attorney General Martha Coakley teamed up with New Hampshire’s AG to lay down the law for the company’s CEOs.

On Wednesday, the supermarket chain’s higher-ups issued an ultimatum for employees on strike, and told them they would be replaced if they didn’t return to work Monday, August 4. In response, Coakley and New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster penned a memo to the company stating they were “keenly aware” of the pending terminations.

“As a threshold matter, we urge Market Basket to be mindful of the fact that its decisions have broad implications,” the attorneys general said in the letter, which outlined specific legalities Market Basket’s CEOs must adhere to if they decide to let people go. “Your decisions of course directly impact thousands of employees and thousands of customers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. 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.”

Market Basket has 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Thousands walked off the job in recent weeks after former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was removed from his role as the result of a family feud that’s spanned decades. Demoulas is now in talks to buyout the remaining company shares.

Until a decision about a possible sale is made, the lack of employees on the job has left the shelves at Market Basket locations all over New England bare, causing sales to plummet exponentially.

With the protests and boycotts coming to a fever pitch, the company’s CEOs said Wednesday that they understand the sensitivity of the matter, and the loyalty to Demoulas, but they want people to come back to work. “We need associates to return to work on Monday, August 4. We understand that some associates may choose not to return, consequently we will begin advertising for employment opportunities. Our hope and strong preference is to have Market Basket’s incredible associates return to work,” they wrote in a public statement.

On Thursday they followed up on that threat and took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe announcing a job fair. 

The letter from the AGs, in response to the ultimatum, said both offices had been flooded with inquiries about legal rights, workers pay, and benefits in the event of possible firings.

The letter said that under state laws, Market Basket employees facing termination due to the ongoing strikes are entitled to their final paycheck on the day they are fired, including any bonuses, earned sick time, holiday or vacation pay.

Coakley and Foster said a violation of those laws could lead to a civil suit or criminal penalties. “Whatever decisions you make in the coming days, needless to say our offices expect and will require compliance with our respective laws,” the letter said.

The full letter can be read below:

Letter Market Basket 7-30-2014 Final (1)