CEOs Ask Market Basket Managers to Remove Protest Signs From Stores

TEWKSBURY,, MA - 07/30/14---Passerby peaks into the Stadium Plaza ( Main St., Tewksbury) Market Basket as employees continue to protest outside the store. Wednesday morning.(globe staff photo :Joanne Rathe section: business reporter: topic: 31demoulas)
Market Basket stores have been covered in signs in recent weeks supporting former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Market Basket store managers have been instructed by co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch to remove posters and other signs supportive of the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas and an ongoing customer boycott.

An email sent Thursday from the CEOs to store directors—which means general managers in Market Basket lingo—asked that the stores’ staff to: “Remove all signs, posters or written material and drawings that are posted or hanging in the store, storefront or any part of the store that is NOT: Product or price related...Providing information about store layout or department...(Or r)equired to be posted by Federal, State or Local government.”

Boston.com confirmed the authenticity of the email with multiple store directors. A Market Basket spokesperson later confirmed it.

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Market Basket stores have worn signage in support of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas since his June firing, and have seen significantly more signs pop up inside and outside stores since a worker and customer movement for his reinstatement began in earnest in mid-July.

Customers have also taped receipts from other grocery stores on store doors in order to show the effect of their boycott during the past several weeks. Many customers are boycotting Market Basket.

The email from the co-CEOs also asked that all signage asking for donations to workers who are going unpaid during ongoing protests also be taken down, and asked that “items that are blocking docks or preventing load deliveries” be removed.

The email did not set a deadline by which to remove the signs. It addressed the point after speaking about scheduling for the next week, saying store directors should continue to schedule full-time employees at their normal hours. The company’s part-time workforce has had its hours cut significantly in light of the stores being largely empty of customers during the conflict.

The email referred to the dispute that has engulfed the company as an “unprecedented” situation that “has obviously affected traditional production metrics.” That could probably be taken as an acknowledgment that when executives need to ask management-level employees to remove signs that actively encourage customers to shop elsewhere from company property, things aren’t going so good.

The full email can be read here.

Peter Sauchuk, the store director at the Gloucester Market Basket, said he would need more workers in order to follow the directive, noting he is down to about 10 to 12 workers per day due to part-time workers having their hours cut and there is little help in the front end, where most of the signs are.

John Sevastis, who runs one of the company’s Fitchburg stores, was more defiant. “Unless I’m told by Arthur T. Demoulas to take down these signs, they’re staying up,” he said. Sevastis said he is asked daily by customers about the situation at the chain. “What’s next?” he said. “Do they also want us to take away the newspapers with ads (calling for the return of Arthur T. Demoulas)? Do they want us to muzzle the customers who are asking about it?”

Sevastis added that he felt the customer boycott has been strong enough that even if signs were taken down, it would persist. “It’s the customers that will dictate what the next chapter of our story is,” he said.

Friday marks a deadline imposed by Thornton and Gooch for the return of the company’s headquarters and warehouse workers to their positions. Failure to do so, they have said, will be taken as the end of their employment with the company.

Arthur T. Demoulas, whose side of the family owns 49.5 percent of the company, is negotiating to buy the company from rival family members who own the rest of the chain.