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Policy: Labor

Market Basket CEOs: We're not laying off workers

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News,Business,Labor

BOSTON (AP) — Market Basket's new CEOs denied Thursday that the supermarket chain was laying off workers, saying store directors have been told to adjust workers' hours to meet current demand, and that the company hopes to get back to normal business levels soon.

Following reports that part-time employees would see their hours drastically reduced or cut starting this weekend at the troubled grocery, company co-CEO Felicia Thornton said in a statement that store directors "are to let their associates know that they are not laid off."

"All Store Directors as part of their normal responsibilities are able to and often do reduce hours but they need to make clear when doing so that the individuals are still employees of DSM (Demoulas Super Markets)," Thornton wrote.

Thousands of Market Basket workers and customers have been rallying in an effort to pressure management to reinstate the company's fired chief executive or accept his offer to buy the New England chain.

Over the last two weeks, hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers have refused to make deliveries to the family-owned chain's 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, leaving stock severely depleted and prompting customers to shop at other grocery stores.

In a separate statement Thursday, the company said it is ready to welcome back "all associates in an effort to return to full operations for the benefit of Market Basket's customers, associates, vendors and communities."

The company also said Thornton and fellow co-CEO Jim Gooch have told store directors to receive deliveries and stock store shelves.

"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," the statement said.

The statements came after attorneys general in Massachusetts and New Hampshire said they have been receiving a surge in calls from worried Market Basket workers.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said she has opened a hotline for Market Basket employees after her office received more than 100 calls over the last 24 hours. She said she expects more in the coming days.

"Market Basket is a major employer in Massachusetts, and we remain hopeful that the parties will come together to reach a positive resolution and restore the vibrancy of the business," Coakley said. She said the hotline will help answer questions from workers and make sure their rights are being protected.

Under Massachusetts law, any worker whose employment is ended must be paid all wages that are due on the final day of employment. Those wages include compensation for hours worked, tips, earned vacation pay, holiday pay and commissions.

State law also protects workers from being penalized by an employer for seeking to enforce their rights under the wage and hour laws.

New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster said his office has also been fielding calls from workers saying they've been laid off and asking about unemployment benefits.

Foster said that unlike Massachusetts', his office doesn't handle employment issues, but that workers with questions about unemployment benefits should contact New Hampshire Employment Security.

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