Market Basket plans to fire as many as 200 employees if they do not return to work by Friday, the company said Tuesday.
Demoulas Supermarkets Inc., which owns 71 Market Basket stores in New England, including one in Biddeford, said in a written statement that the 200 employees have not shown up for work in weeks.
Many employees of the grocery store chain have walked off the job to protest the June 22 ouster of then-CEO Arthur T. Demoulas by a board of directors controlled by his rival and cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. Now they must either come back to work or look for other employment.
“The company has not taken any action in response to their absence, but is left with no choice but to make this last request,” the statement said. “The company will of course follow all applicable laws should these associates choose to abandon their positions.”
According to the Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based company, the letter was sent only to those employees who have failed to report to work at its headquarters and distribution center, neither of which is in Maine.
It said salaried exempt employees were paid in advance for July, though many have been absent from work since July 17.
Some employees who received the letters posted pictures of them on a Facebook page hosted by employees and customers seeking the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO. The Facebook page is titled “Artie T. Supporters Unite.”
The form letters begin, “You have not reported to work in several weeks. The company has communicated with you on numerous occasions to request that you return to your role. In these communications, the company has welcomed you back to your position without consequences. Despite these efforts, you have ignored the company’s repeated offers to return.”
The letter, signed by company co-chief executives Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, gives the employees until Friday to return. Employee Anne Brown said on the Facebook page that she received her letter via FedEx on Tuesday morning.
Employees commenting on the letter said they would continue to stay home until they were fired or Demoulas was put back in charge.
Market Basket stores have been virtually empty since angry employees initiated a successful customer boycott after Demoulas’ ouster.
On Friday, the board said in a news release that it had asked Demoulas and his ousted management team to return in lesser roles to help stabilize the company. They refused, describing the offer as disingenuous.
Last week, thousands of part-time Market Basket workers, including 270 in Biddeford, were told they would no longer be scheduled to work until the leadership crisis was resolved.
Arthur T. Demoulas is a hero to many in the company because of his employee-friendly demeanor and generous compensation policies. Shortly after he was fired, some Market Basket employees began walking off the job, including delivery drivers who normally stock the stores with fresh produce and meats. As a result, the stores’ produce and meat aisles have been nearly empty for weeks.
In 2013, the rival Demoulas cousins clashed over the company’s future business strategy. Arthur T. wanted to use its cash reserves to open more stores, while Arthur S. insisted that the money be paid out in dividends to the family-owned company’s shareholders. The dispute ended up in court, where Arthur S. won a judgment to distribute $300 million to the shareholders.