Market Basket employee Karen Bostwick, of Tewksbury, has filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, contending current Market Basket management is “violating the right to picket and strike.”
“She’s claiming that Market Basket interfered with her right to protest,” said Ellen Messing, a labor attorney in Boston who is not representing Bostwick but is following the case. “Basically, what she’s saying is, ‘We were protesting a management policy and they can’t fire us for doing that.’”
Market Basket's co-CEOs have not threatened to fire anyone for protesting, and no workers have been terminated during the supermarket's protracted ownership struggle.
Bostwick declined to comment for this story. Her charge also cites a “hostile work environment” and “lack of safety.” Another Boston labor lawyer, Jerome Weinstein, who is also not representing Bostwick, said he's surprised more Market Basket employees haven’t filed charges with the NLRB.
“Saying ‘come back to work or we’ll view your job as having been abandoned?’ It seemed to me to be really overreaching,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein says employees can legally “withhold their services” if they’re in a management dispute. Management can’t fire them, or even threaten to fire them. But they can hire replacements, he said.
"If an employer is faced with people who won’t come to work because they’re unhappy with what’s going on and are withholding services to complain about it, to protest it, one thing the law does recognize is hire replacements,” he said.
That was the point of the Market Basket job fair. But now the NLRB will examine the case, launching an investigation on behalf of employee Karen Bostwick.
Market Basket declined to comment about the NLRB complaint.
Market Basket had given its employees an ultimatum to return to work by August 15 or the company would “consider you to have abandoned your job, thereby ending your employment with the company.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley set up a hotline for Market Basket employees earlier this month, and reminded Market Basket that all employees have rights to their salary and benefits.
“We have stressed that one of the reasons that we wanted to keep communication lines open with the employers and the employees is that there are certain rights that attach to people who serve as employees, even if they are part time and even if they don’t have bargaining rights,” Coakley said at the time.
Read the NLRB charge against Market Basket: