Market Basket Workers Fired Amid Protests


 Updated July 21, 2014, 2:30 pm

A family feud over control over the Market Basket supermarket chain escalated Monday as thousands of employees and their supporters rallied outside of a store in Tewksbury.

An estimated 2,000 protesters calling for the reinstatement of fired CEO Arthur T. Demoulas arrived by the bus load a day after the company made good on promises to fire employees who skipped work to attend an earlier rally.

The company said in a statement that eight employees were fired over the weekend because “their actions continued to harm the company, negatively impacted customers, and inhibited associates’ ability to perform their jobs.”

Fired Market Basket employee Steve Paulenka holds up stack of petition signatures gathered in support or Arthur T. Demoulas. (Jack Lepiarz/WBUR)

Fired Market Basket employee Steve Paulenka, speaking to a crowd of protesters, holds up a stack of petition signatures gathered in support or Arthur T. Demoulas. (Jack Lepiarz/WBUR)

Some of those fired, including Tom Trainor, had more than four decades with the Tewksbury-based chain, which has 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

“We feel they are going to try to sell the company. Which wouldn’t be good for customers or associates,” Trainor told WBUR of the chain’s new CEOs. “Even if they don’t sell the company, we feel that they are going to sell the real estate, which is a big part of our business plan — owning the real estate and collecting the rent enables us to keep low prices for our customers and keep us out of debt.”

Workers had sent a letter with a 4:30 p.m. Thursday deadline for rehiring Demoulas, who lost his job after a long-running battle with a cousin for control.

The new CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, said that power rests with the board, which plans a telephone conference Monday and a meeting July 25. Employee representatives were invited.

The new executives said last week the company’s direction hasn’t changed.

“We want to reinforce our commitment to Market Basket customers, associates, benefit plans, bonus programs, profit sharing and new stores,” they said Thursday.

Meanwhile, some Market Basket stores started running out of fresh produce as deliveries had stopped Friday. Customers who went shopping Sunday were greeted by empty shelves in some sections of the stores.

Some Massachusetts lawmakers have called for a boycott of the company, led by state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, whose district includes the company’s headquarters in Tewksbury. As of Monday, 37 state lawmakers and mayors had agreed to encourage constituents to stop shopping at Market Basket until Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated, said Finegold, who attended Monday’s rally.

“I’ve never seen a rally where workers are not asking for more wages or benefits. All they are asking for is the reinstatement of the person that’s been running this company,” Finegold said. “It’s about keeping the culture of this company they’ve built that’s benefited so many all these years. So many people are paycheck to paycheck. If you can save 10 percent of your food bill, it’s a big deal.”

Listen below to WBUR’s conversation with ousted Market Basket employee Tom Trainor, who explains his decision to support former chief executive Arthur T. Demoulas. WBUR requested to speak with executives at Market Basket but has not heard back.

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