News that part-time workers would see their hours significantly cut next week—in most cases to zero—obviously comes at a financial cost to Market Basket’s workforce. No hours means no pay for a major portion of the grocery chain’s employees.
While the move to cut hours does not amount to a layoff, and while co-CEO Felicia Thornton emphasized in a statement that part-timer hours will return should business operations return to normal, there’s a chance part-time workers could be losing out on more than their weekly wages.
One of the most commonly cited employee perks at the company is a profit sharing plan, through which the company puts a percentage of employees’ annual income into investments. In recent years, that number is said to have been about 15 percent. The retirement plan requires no employee contribution and is considered extremely generous. Perks like profit sharing are pointed to as the reason why employees have been so loyal to former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
Profit sharing is made available not just to full-time workers, but also to part-time employees, with a contribution made on their behalf each year if they work at least 1,000 hours, according to multiple sources at the company. That works out to a little less than 20 hours per week.
Should part-time employees see hours diminish for several weeks—the likelihood of which would probably depend on how long the employee protests, customer boycott, and boardroom dramatics over a sale of the company play out—they may find it difficult to recoup the hours needed to receive profit sharing benefits in 2014.
Though the profit sharing plan functionally works as a company-funded retirement plan, its premise presumably requires profits. A profitable 2014 at Market Basket is likely in threat at this point given the massive losses it has taken every day since the ongoing strife began in July. Asked how profit sharing has worked in years without profits at Market Basket, former district manager Tom Trainor, a four-decade veteran of the company before he was fired earlier this summer, said: “I don’t know. It’s never happened.’’
Fixing a scenario in which part-time workers lose out on the benefit would need to come from whoever is running the company at the end of the year. Company action around the profit sharing plan wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented. Market Basket made a major contribution to the plan after the financial crisis put a big dent in it a few years back, an action taken by Arthur T. Demoulas.
A question to current Market Basket management about how the benefit would be handled for part-time workers who miss the 1,000 hour threshold in 2014 was answered with the following response from a spokesperson: “The solution would be for store directors to receive deliveries, stock the shelves, and encourage customers to return.’’