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Market Basket workers' rally to bring back CEO captured public's heart

Citizen of the Year logoMANCHESTER - When was the last time you hugged your boss?

Or stood out in the rain for him? Or risked losing your job, so you could get his back?

Thousands of Market Basket supermarket workers stood up for their deposed boss, Arthur T. Demoulas, this past summer, protesting outside stores and convincing nearly all their customers to stay away until workers got their way.

The employees led a successful movement not by raising their fists but by convincing others to join hands in their cause.

And for their efforts and achievements, Market Basket workers in New Hampshire - nearly 9,500 strong spread over 28 Granite State stores - are recipients of the New Hampshire Union Leader 2014 Citizen of the Year.

The editors of the Union Leader and Sunday News make the choice for New Hampshire's Citizen of the Year based on which individual or group has made the most impact on the state in a given year. "We think the Market Basket employees clearly had a major effect on the Granite State this year," said Joseph W. McQuaid, president and publisher of the newspapers.

"They caught people's attention in how they demonstrated their love and affection for their boss, who New Hampshire now knows, if we didn't before, simply as 'Artie T,'?" McQuaid said. "They caught people's attention because people changed their own habits in response to what the employees were doing. A lot of shoppers changed to different stores out of loyalty to the workers in the stores.

"All this caught people's attention through the headlines and nightly newscasts and countless Facebook and Tweets and other social media so, indeed, the Market Basket employees in New Hampshire are easily our Citizen of the Year for their effect on the state," McQuaid said.

David McLean, Market Basket's operations manager, said the award should be shared with others."It's quite an honor for our associates, but we would be remiss, truly remiss, if we did not point out it wasn't just the associates. It was the customers, the vendors that supported us, and we would want them to receive the recognition," McLean told the Union Leader. "We're honored to be recognized by the Union Leader."

Two workers collecting shopping carts outside the Manchester store last week were happy about the award."Sweet! That's awesome," said Ian Trahan, who thanked customers who backed employees.

"Wicked appreciative of it," said co-worker Will Tzimopoulos, who started working there about a year ago, same as Trahan.

Arthur T. Demoulas praised his workers for preserving the company culture that didn't focus solely on profits.

"You rocked the region and the whole country with your dedication and your loyalty and your support over the past six or seven weeks, all for the right reasons to protect what we all built together," Demoulas said during a visit to the Market Basket store in Londonderry in September.

"What made the workers successful is they captured the hearts and the minds of the public," said Neil Niman, economics department chair at the University of New Hampshire. "I guess I would call it the most compelling news story in the state."

Grocery clerk Dan Murray planned to return to the Market Basket store in Seabrook during his Christmas break from UMass-Amherst. The 23-year-old from Amesbury, Mass., has worked for Market Basket for seven years.

"Arthur T. provided like a company model that worked and provided benefits to employees," Murray said recently. "We didn't want that to get ruined by greed and money."

He said Demoulas provided a "strong sense of unity," and stores felt like families.

"Everyone gets along," Murray said. "It's a pretty strong culture."

Murray and McLean both noted that many store directors worked their way up from bagging groceries.

"It's very rare you can work with one company your entire work career, and we're proud of that," he said.

The supermarket chain announced it had given out $49 million in annual bonuses to its workers recently - about $5 million more than last year, McLean said.

"I'm not sure we'll ever see another Market Basket situation like we've seen right now," Niman said, noting the support rank-and-file workers received from customers and managers. "When was the last time you saw everybody rowing in the same direction?"

By late August, Arthur T. Demoulas and his side of the family outdueled his cousin, Arthur S., agreeing to purchase the remaining 50.5 percent of the family business for more than $1.5 billion.

"Everybody likes a good family feud," Niman said. "It had all the makings of that Movie of the Week."

And Market Basket workers and customers liked this movie's happy ending.

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