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Market Basket workers to unions: Thanks, but no thanks

Union Leader Correspondent

July 26. 2014 9:24PM

Jessi Couchon gets a shoulder ride from her Concord Market Basket co-worker, Anthony Webb, at a gathering in a parking lot in Tewksbury, Mass., to rally support for ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Methuen, Mass., resident Phil Nackley, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103, was at the Market Basket rally Friday morning holding a "Save Market Basket" sign with an IBEW logo.

And Nackley wasn't the only union member showing his support for Market Basket workers. During the long week of rallies and picketing, members of the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Service Employees International Union Local 1984 of New Hampshire and other large labor unions have been standing with Market Basket employees, holding signs and showing their support.

Market Basket workers - who are not part of any union - have been cool so far to the overtures of organized labor.

At one of the first large rallies at the company's distribution center in Tewksbury, Mass., Steve Paulenka, a facilities and operation manager who has been one of the leading voices in the protests, told union reps in the crowd to keep their "little index cards'' and stop trying to sign up store workers.

"We're a family," said Paulenka. "We don't need that."

And on Monday, after it was announced that Paulenka and seven other senior managers were fired for organizing rallies and picket lines, Teamsters Local 25 - which represents more than 11,000 workers in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire - announced it was ready to help with free legal assistance.

"It is evident that the employees feel strongly about bringing back former CEO Artie T. Demoulas and they should be able to voice their opinions without losing their job," said Sean O'Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25. "I applaud all of the employees for taking a stand and the thousands of shoppers who have taken their business elsewhere as a sign of solidarity with the employees."

Still, Tom Trainor, a grocery supervisor and manager who was fired along with Paulenka, said the Market Basket workers would take care of their own.

"The Teamsters have reached out and offered to help us," said Trainor, who was picketing with warehouse workers in Tewksbury on Tuesday. "But that's not us, that's not who we are."

Throughout the protests, Market Basket workers have repeatedly stressed they are a family that takes care of its members, and they do not feel they need the power of a labor union to resolve their problems.

They have, however, said that their actions are protected under federal laws enforced by the National Labor Relations Board, which safeguards workers' rights to organize regardless of whether they belong to labor unions.

Despite the cold shoulder organized labor has received from Market Basket, union members are still backing them in their effort to reinstate former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, and several have posted messages of support and solidarity on the websites.

"We're here to support them, not to recruit them," said Nackley. "I want to go food shopping like everyone else."

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