July 21. 2014 8:40PM

Market Basket workers urged to 'shut it down'; deposed CEO urges fired workers be given jobs back

New Hampshire Union Leader

Thousands of Market Basket workers rally in Tewksbury, Mass., on Monday to pressure the supermaket chain to rehire its ousted CEO. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

TEWKSBURY, Mass. — Thousands of Market Basket employees rallied in support of their ousted CEO on Monday and were urged to do what they could to shutter all the chain’s supermarkets, including about 30 in New Hampshire, until the CEO returns.

Meanwhile, deposed CEO Arthur T. Demoulas issued his first public statement on the matter, urging that workers who were fired over the weekend be given their jobs back.

“This is not going to end until you shut it down,” Steve Paulenka, a top organizer from Londonderry, N.H., told a workers armed with signs who assembled in a parking lot of a strip mall containing a Market Basket.

Paulenka was one of eight workers given termination notices over the weekend.

Police and organizers each estimated the crowd reached into the thousands. Many workers who cheered and waved signs had skipped their normal work shift at stores that were suffering from a lack of deliveries. Workers ramped up the pressure on the company to bring back Arthur T. Demoulas, who, many said, treated his workers like family members.

In a statement issued Monday night and posted on several media sites, Arthur T. Demoulas said: “This is the first time I have commented publicly on the recent events at Market Basket. The success of Market Basket is the result of two things: a business model that works and the execution of it by a dedicated and impassioned team of associates. Their fierce loyalty to the company and its customers has always been deeply valued. In the final analysis, this is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it. I urge that they be reinstated in the best interest of the company and our customers.”

“Can’t run the company without our family father, our leader,” said Michael Wojcuilewicz, who works at the Milford, N.H., store.

A group of workers from the Seabrook, N.H., store said they planned to stand outside rather than return to work later Monday.

“We’re going to shut it right down,” said grocery clerk Dan Murray.

His colleague, Allen Pelletier, the grocery manager there, said he also would heed the call.

“Oh yeah,” said Pelletier, who’s worked there 17 years and hopes to retire in another 24. “I have the keys to the store; I can.”

Last week, the company warned workers that those who abandoned their jobs would lose them. A spokesman Monday didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the rally.

Paulenka said all 15 stores he visited Sunday had fewer customers than normal.

“Every store is down,” he said. “It’s only going to get worse.”

At the rival Hannaford supermarket chain, “the stores have been busy” in recent days, Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said Monday.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of activity in the stores,” Blom said, adding “it’s inappropriate to talk about any particular competitor.”

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan issued a statement urging Market Basket to listen to the concerns of its workers.

“It’s heartening to see just how much the workers of Market Basket value the company and respect its past, present and future,” the governor said. “I encourage Market Basket leadership to continue in that spirit by listening to their employees’ concerns and seeking to quickly address the situation with a focus on keeping their dedicated workers employed and reducing the impact on customers.”

An online petition to reinstate the former Market Basket leader has garnered more than 12,500 signatures.

Even before Monday’s call to shut the Market Basket stores, some workers weren’t reporting to work.

Stephanie Gauthier said she was supposed to be working at the time of the rally, the fourth shift she’s missed in the meat department at the Nashua, N.H., store on Amherst Street. She was supporting the former CEO instead.

“He’s the owner; he built this,” Gauthier said. “To freaking throw him out was an injustice.”

Richard Pirelli, an assistant grocery manager at the Milford store, recalled when Arthur T. Demoulas came to the grand opening of the Tilton, N.H., store years back when Pirelli worked there. Demoulas was greeting customers, noticed produce counters were running low and jumped in to help.

“He saw the problem happening, and he resolved it,” said Pirelli, who has worked for the chain since age 14.

Pirelli said the Milford store this week was running out of certain items. “There’s hardly any produce. No chicken. There’s no fish. The deli’s almost empty.”

He urged Market Basket customers to stay away from stores until the dispute is settled. “We got to hurt ’em in the wallets,” Pirelli said.