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Workers pulling for ex-Market Basket CEO's buyout bid

New Hampshire Union Leader
Union Leader Correspondent

July 24. 2014 9:06PM

MANCHESTER — Market Basket workers said Thursday they hope the company’s board accepts an offer from the family faction led by ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to buy a controlling stake of the supermarket chain and end a widespread customer boycott.

Casey Belanger, an assistant manager at the Elm Street store in Manchester, said that would mean stores could return to normal.

“It’s not nice to come in to work and there’s nobody,” Belanger said. “We want our customers back.”

Belanger said only three cashier lanes were open Thursday morning, compared to 16 normally.

Market Basket employees from around New England plan another large rally Friday in Tewksbury, Mass., before the company’s board meets in Boston this afternoon.

The company co-CEOs “need to leave their positions and get Arthur T. back and get things back to normal,” said Manchester store manager Peter Gulezian. “It might take a week or two.”

Workers are urging customers to boycott the stores until Arthur T. Demoulas is returned to power after he was ousted in a family dispute. A statement said the ex-CEO’s coalition wants to buy the remaining company shares.

‘Full and fair’ offer

“The Arthur T. Demoulas side of the family has made an offer to buy the 50.5 percent of shares in Demoulas Market Basket Supermarkets we do not own,” the statement said. “We believe that our offer is a very full and fair one and should meet or exceed a seller’s expectations of the value of the company.”

Last December, Forbes estimated that Market Basket, which operates about 30 stores in New Hampshire, brought in annual revenue of $3.55 billion. Other published estimates placed that number in excess of $4 billion.

Lean shelves

Gulezian, whose Market Basket tenure dates back to his days as a part-timer bagger in 1984, said employee absenteeism was normal this week with employees picketing along Elm Street during their off hours.

At the Manchester store, customers couldn’t buy a pork chop or chicken breast Thursday but still could find a gallon of milk, lamb chops or a carton of ice cream. Many dry-goods items, including toilet paper, pasta, cereal and soda, remained in stock.

“The shelves are holding up well because there’s nobody in here to purchase (the items on) them,” Gulezian said.

He said business Wednesday was down probably 70 percent.

Gulezian said the store hadn’t received shipments of produce and meat for a week. Some meat on sale Thursday came from store coolers.

Edline Edouard of Manchester, who didn’t know about the company infighting, found shopping frustrating.

“It’s annoying,” she said. “Can’t find anything.”

Offer celebrated

At the Bedford location, employees were out in full force for their beloved Arthur T.

Sailo Sellappah of Salem has worked for Market Basket for 11 years, since he was 15. He started as a bagger and is now a manager. He has worked at both Salem stores and the Bedford location, where he assisted with hiring and training that store’s employees.

“I don’t have to say why I love working here; you can here see why I work here,” Sellappah said, gesturing toward the crowd of employees, who cheered each time a passerby honked at them.

Sellappah added that he thinks Arthur T. Demoulas is “a great man,” that he has met him personally, and that he is loyal to him “110 percent.”

“He cares about his employees, his customers — a simple man, just a great guy,” Sellappah said.

He said Arthur T.’s offer to buy half the company was “the best news we’ve heard in a while.”

“The board of directors, they have a fiduciary responsibility to do [what’s in] the best interest of the company, employees, vendors, and customers,” Sellappah said. “Bringing Mr. D. back would be in the best interest of the company.”

Wayne Mullin of Atkinson, who has worked for Market Basket for 18 years, said that Arthur T.’s offer was “fantastic” news for the company.

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s going to solve this thing once and for all, which is what everyone wants — the people that work for him, the customers who shop here,” Mullin said. “Everyone just wants everything to go back to normal, uninterrupted. Just let him do what he does best without any restraints or restrictions or anything else.”

‘Fascinating development’

Rhena Prince of Bedford was shopping at Market Basket on Thursday. Prince said she is a longtime customer and that she signed a petition inside the store to bring back Arthur T.

“I think it’s wonderful that the employees and the management are sticking up for a person that is so well-liked and treats his employees so well,” Prince said. “That doesn’t happen very often, and I really commend them for doing that ... They’re not even union, and that’s such a big statement.”

Prince said she was pleased at the news of Arthur T.’s offer.

“I would love to see him back in charge, any way he wants to do it,” she said.

Marc Dixon, an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College who has written about the labor movement, called it a fascinating development in the high-stakes family dispute.“That would be an amazing turn of events if that would happen,” Dixon said.

The return of Arthur T. Demoulas would make for an easier return to normal than if an outside buyer came in, he said.

The Market Basket situation, he said, may serve as a model for workers at other companies to copy.

“I do think the interesting sort of alignment of management and rank-and-file employees seems to be resonating with people ... and is powerful to the extent workers in other settings facing problems can do it,” Dixon said.


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