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July 31. 2014 9:29PM

Market Basket customers mobilize to help workers

Customers are promising to stick with Market Basket workers and are raising money for a full-page ad in the Lowell Sun to blast the board and shareholders.

News that the company is planning a three-day job fair beginning next Monday to hire replacements for protesters and no-show employees did little to dampen the resolve of workers who were both on the job and outside holding signs at the Londonderry store.

“We are going to do whatever it takes to support Arthur T. Demoulas,” said Stephen Connington, a front-end manager who was at work on Thursday.

Like other Market Basket workers, Connington thinks the job fair is just the latest tactic in a bitter decades-long feud among members of the Demoulas family over control of the privately held supermarket chain. Arthur T. Demoulas was fired as CEO in June as a result of that infighting. He has since made an offer to buy out other family members; the board is now considering that and other offers and proposals.

Market Basket workers who are intensely loyal to Arthur T. Demoulas began rallying and demanding their boss be reinstated two weeks ago.

Warehouse workers and truck drivers have stayed out of work, leaving many stores without any fresh products.

“The shoppers realize what’s at stake,” Connington said.

On Thursday, customers launched a campaign on the Facebook page, Save Market Basket, to pay for a full-page ad in the Lowell Sun targeted directly at the company’s board of directors. Within the first five hours, the Save Artie T. customer ad fund had more than $10,000 in pledges to pay for the $3,000 ad.

According to Nashua resident Lynn Cunningham, the upcoming ad will carry a message similar to the one expressed in an open letter to the board written by Denise Walsh on behalf of the Save Artie T. Facebook group, which has nearly 15,000 members.

“The media and you seem to be laboring under the delusion that this is strictly an issue with your employees,” it begins. “Clearly you are missing the bigger picture. Your CUSTOMERS are also disgusted with your behavior.”

The letter criticizes the Market Basket board and co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch for not accepting piles of customer petitions, and for failing to recognize the role the public has in the debate.

“You can belittle, torment, scare and fire every employee in that company. But you have NOTHING without us,” reads the letter which ends with the promise not to return to the stores until Arthur T. is back.

“We are just tired of the board of directors thinking it’s the employees who are doing all this,” said Cunningham. “It’s the customers too.”

Salem resident Karen Russo, a vendor who fills the magazine racks at Market Basket, said she has taken a huge loss over the past two weeks because of the boycotts. Nobody is at the stores to pick up the latest edition of anything.

Still, she’s boycotting too.

“My income is very low,” said Russo, who shops at Market Basket because of the low prices.

“I won’t shop here now,” said Russo, who added she is confident the chain’s customer base will fade away unless Arthur T. is brought back.

“They are shooting themselves in the foot,” said Russo. “I am praying for Market Basket.”

Raymond resident Jessica Hemenway said she lives about a mile from a Hannaford grocery store, but has always driven to Epping to shop at Market Basket. She said she won’t be making that trip until Arthur T. is reinstated.

“They can fire all the employees and open again, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to shop there,” said Hemenway. “It’s the customers they need to listen to.”

Market Basket workers have received support from elected officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and this week, the business community also began reaching out.

Northeast Credit Union announced it has developed a personal loan specifically for people who have been hurt by the Market Basket conflict.

“We believe it is our responsibility to assist our members through financial hard times, and this could be one of those times for some of our members,” said Timothy J. Collia, president and CEO of the credit union.

The loans are being offered to non-member grocery employees as well as credit union members.

btaormina@newstote.com



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