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Jobs Growing Into Flashpoint In Market Basket Standoff

Protesters hold signs and taunt a car leaving the site of a Market Basket job fair in Andover on Wednesday. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Protesters hold signs and taunt a car leaving the site of a Market Basket job fair in Andover on Wednesday. (Elise Amendola/AP)

ANDOVER, Mass. — Jobs are becoming the latest flashpoint in the Market Basket standoff. Executives at the supermarket chain are telling stores to cut back on staffing, since there’s little work to do.

Meanwhile, Market Basket is accepting applications from people interested in replacing those who’ve walked off the job and crippled the company’s distribution to its stores.

On Wednesday, Market Basket held the third day of its job fair in Andover, but it was the first for outside applicants. And even though people could email in their resumes, more than 100 showed up by car or on foot.

Waiting to meet them was a mass of current Market Basket workers.

“You dirtbag!” one protester kept shouting. “Scum!” another shouted.

Those are some of the nicer names current workers called the job applicants. Among the protesters was Cathy Perkins, who works at store No. 22 in Tewksbury.

“I’m kind of conflicted, quite honestly,” she said. “Because the people that come through, some of them look pretty desperate. But we need our jobs. For these people to come and take our jobs, it’s not right.”

The Market Basket way, she says, is to hire and promote from within. Many of the applicants declined to talk on tape. One said he was told he would hear from the company in two weeks.

But while Market Basket is looking for people to take over for the hundreds of warehouse and distribution workers who’ve paralyzed the company by walking off the job, it’s telling stores to cut back on staffing. Co-CEO Felicia Thornton sent an email to store directors, saying they should staff appropriately for the amount of business they’re doing — which is to say, not much.

“Right now, we’re probably going to have to cut back some hours,” said Mark Sturzo, assistant store manager of Market Basket No. 57 in Milford, New Hampshire. “That could be next week because we do the schedule on Friday and Saturday for the next week.”

His brother, Chris Sturzo, who’s the director of store No. 50 in Rochester, New Hampshire, says he’s running out of things for his staff to do.

“We’re trying to keep our workers busy by painting, cleaning, scrubbing,” he said. “But there’s a point where that’s not going to happen anymore, as you know. And something’s gonna happen.”

Store directors have been asking the company executive team what to do. They say if sales are supposed to cover payroll, well, that hardly covers the managers at the stores, much less anybody else. They feel stuck. Either they tell workers to stay home, which could trigger unemployment. Or they tell them to come to work, and the store directors risk being fired.

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