By Robin Alberti
RUTLAND — On Sunday, Aug. 10, citizens banded together for a second time to hold a protest in front of Mac’s convenience store and gas station on South Main Street in Rutland. The group is encouraging folks to not spend their money at Mac’s locations until owner Jennifer Allen changes her policies to make a safer work environment and begins to treat her employees with basic respect and human decency.
The boycott began after Don Pitianiello, age 58 of Rutland, thwarted a robbery at Mac’s convenience store at 145 North Main Street by drawing a gun on a knife-wielding robber Sunday night, June 15. He was subsequently suspended from his job as a clerk at the convenience store.
Pitianiello said he had defended himself by using his legally concealed weapon while working as a cashier at Mac’s when he was robbed at knifepoint. No one was injured as the result of the incident, and the robber left the store without further incident.
But Pitianiello was in violation of Mac’s policy of no firearms at work. Pitianiello expected to be reprimanded, he said, and he was not surprised to lose his job. But when he met with Jennifer Allen, the owner of the Rutland Mac’s, Allen proceeded to verbally vilify him and left him no choice but to quit, he said. This was his second job. He took it on to help with his family stay afloat with mounting medical bills due to his wife’s medical condition. Don Pitianiello is a Vietnam veteran.
Locals formed the Facebook group “Boycotting Mac’s,” to support Pitianiello. The page now has a following of over 1,000 supporters.
While it is against Mac’s policy for employees to carry firearms to work, that is not the issue at hand here, the protesters clarified. Pitianiello fully expected to be disciplined for violating policy, but it was the manner in which it was done that has raised concern with the townspeople.
Since this incident happened, other former employees have come forward confirming similar experiences with Allen, which include verbal tirades and backhanded business tactics.
Since the Facebook group has formed, according to the protesters Sunday, Allen has taken steps to track down members of the group and has threatened to stop doing business with any vendors who employ them — essentially blackmailing these companies to either infringe on their employees’ right to free speech or lose a business client, a member of the group who wished to remain anonymous told The Mountain Times.
Allegedly, Allen also had a friend contact the Pitianiello’s new employer, The Rutland Country Store, encouraging them to fire him. The Rutland Country Store is aware of the incident and why Pitianiello was forced to leave left his previous job at Mac’s — in fact, that is part of why they hired him, some say.
The group claims that Jennifer Allen has far overstepped common-sense boundaries.
During the first protest, July 19, Allen lowered the price of gas and gave away free coffee to patrons to lure them into Mac’s in light of the boycott. She also had two deputies and a sheriff there, to the tune of $200 per officer, protesters reported.
But this time, she went further. On Sunday, in addition to the No Trespass Order she has placed on Don Pitianiello (which is not the first No Trespass Order she has filed on past employees), Allen rented three U-Haul trucks and parked them along the roadside by her parking lot, blocking the view of protestors from her store. There were also new security cameras in place, but they were not in the store to protect her employees. Rather these new cameras were mounted above the gas pumps pointed at the sidewalk where the protest was held.
A sound system also blasted loud music outside dur ing the hours the protest was held, making it hard to have a conversation with someone standing next to you. “Don’t you think that money would have been wiser spent on security cameras INSIDE the store, or on a second person on closing shifts so no employee has to be alone in the store late at night?” one protester asked.
This time, folks came from as far as New Hampshire to support the boycott and bring awareness to the issue of employee rights, safe working conditions and rising crime in the Rutland area.
John Burt, a candidate for State Representative in New Hampshire, came to show his support on Sunday, too. NHPR has coined Burt as “a hard-liner on Second Amendment rights.” But that wasn’t what motivated John Burt to attend the rally.
“I don’t believe I am a hard-liner, but I do believe in the Second Amendment,” he said of his reputation. “Bottom line is: businesses have the right to make their own policies, but to get a No Trespass order… why?” Burt said, adding that in his opinion that was stepping over the bounds of store policy and infringing on individual rights.
Other citizens weighed in on their motives for supporting this cause. Mark, a resident of Rutland who moved here from Rhode Island, told The Mountain Times, “I feel it was unfair how Don was treated. There is too much crime here and someone needs to stand up to it.” He continued, “I moved here to get away from crime, and it keeps increasing every year here in Rutland.”
Bob DePino added, “If you curtail your employees’ rights and criminals know that, it makes businesses and their employees more vulnerable. Criminals don’t respect the law, they carry knives and guns. Surveillance cameras don’t stop criminals; they just catch them on tape… They are usually wearing masks so you can’t even identify them.”
DePino is doing what he can to support Pitianiello’s cause: hitting Allen in the pocket book, he said. Will it make an impact? DePino’s household consists of three licensed drivers, all of whom have trucks. They each spend about $300 a month on gasoline, he said. $300 x 12 months adds up to $3,600 per year in sales that Allen has now lost, and that is just one family.
“We have choices to exercise our right to spend money wherever we choose. It can have an impact,” said Bob DePino. He also mentioned he would not allow his granddaughter to take a job at a place where she was the sole person there. “It is not safe or fair to have an employee there alone,” he added.
This story, like most, is multi-faceted, and the 1,000+ members of the Facebook group “Boycotting Mac’s,” likely have various reasons for supporting it, from the importance of safe work environments and ethical treatment, to second amendment rights. Join the conversation at mountaintimes.info.