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Market Basket workers rally to support ousted CEO

Union Leader Correspondent

July 18. 2014 5:57PM
More than 1,000 employees, relatives and customers rallied outside Market Basket's headquarters Friday in Tewskbury, Mass. (Barbara Taormina/Union Leader Correspondent)

A crowd of more than 1,000 Market Basket workers rallied outside of the company headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., Friday morning to demand that ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas be reinstated.

“We should be infuriated by what’s happening to our company,” said Todd Peters, a buyer for the grocery store chain, which has 71 stores and roughly 25,000 employees throughout New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

Todd and more than a dozen other Market Basket managers, customers and friends stood at a makeshift podium for more than two hours in the sun to talk about their experiences with Arthur T. Demoulas, who they said ran their company like a family business. They also expressed fear and anger about the new leadership, which many feel is motivated by greed.

“We’ve drawn the line, and we need all 71 stores to support us,” said Todd, who also encouraged workers to spread the word to Market Basket customers who rely on the stores for affordable groceries.

“They are going to get shot in the back of the head and they don’t know it yet,” said Todd.

Arthur T. Demoulas was fired last month by the company’s board of directors. That move came after years of infighting among the Demoulas family, owners of the privately held grocery store.

Many in the crowd had called in sick to attend the rally despite a memo from the chain’s new CEO’s, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch that warned workers they may be fired.

And many, like Terry McCarthy, the manager of the Market Basket store in Middleton, Mass., shared stories about how Arthur T. Demoulas had intervened and supported them during illnesses, deaths and other family problems.

Rosie Lagopian, who has 42 years of experience with Market Basket, drew cheers when she promised to fight on until Demoulas was back at the market basket helm.

“We are going to take this company back,” she said. “We are going to make sure Artie T. is in charge, and it will be our company again.”

According to Steve Paulenka, an operations and facility manager who took on the role of emcee, the rally was not a strike or a walk out, but an expression of concern from store associates.

“It’s entirely grassroots,” said Paulenka who told the crowd that a Christmas compensation fund had already been cut by $12 million. Paulenka also said the new leadership team was unaware of how the employee profit-sharing program operated.

Workers vowed to keep up the pressure with more rallies and call outs, particularly among the warehouse workers and delivery drivers. During the rally, no trucks were seen moving in or out of the company headquarters, which is also the chain’s distribution center.

Tom Trainer, a buyer for the chain, acknowledged that everyone in the crowd was worried about a paycheck but said workers could make a difference if they remained united.

“We can shut this place down,” said Trainer, who promised to make warehouse workers and delivery drivers financially whole if they kept up the pressure on the chain and shut off deliveries to the stores.

Trainer predicted it would take about a week of slowing down supplies to the stores to convince the company’s board of directors to reinstate Demoulas.

Workers promised to be back at the Tewksbury site on Monday.

“If we stick together, we will make this work,” said Paulenka.

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