Market Basket CEOs Infuriate Workers

Appeal from new leaders to drop protest draws outrage from employees committed to ousted Arthur T. Demoulas

Market Basket workers are slamming their new co-CEOs' pleas for them to drop their walkout, as protests for the return of their beloved ousted boss gain steam.

After weeks of silence, the new co-CEOs of Market Basket, allied with the family faction that ousted Arthur T. Demoulas, have urged protesting employees to "refocus" on customers and give the new leadership a chance to earn their trust.

Wednesday it was clear the message hasn't just fallen flat with many of the 71-store supermarket chain's 25,000 employees -- it's outraged them and redoubled their refusal to work for anyone other than "Artie T."

"Whatever they say is bull. Bull," said Dennis Drouin, a 43-year truck driver with Market Basket.

"I didn't like it," said Timothy Chateauneuf, who was protesting Wednesday across from the Tewksbury Market Basket distribution center where he works in the warehouse. "It wasn't integrity, which ATD stands for."

Chris Sterzo, director of the Rochester, N.H., Market Basket, said: "It's just propaganda. It makes no sense, what they're saying."

And Cindy Whelan, director of the Epping, N.H., Market Basket, said her response is: "I refuse to work for anyone other than ATD."

Arthur T. Demoulas was fired a month ago after his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, who's been feuding with Arthur T. for decades, and his allies gained financial control of the company and board. James Gooch and Felicia Thornton were brought in as co-CEOs.

"They're known as the closers," Chateauneuf said. "They come into companies, liquidate them, and leave. Gooch fired 3,500 people from Radio Shack and ran that into the ground, and we don't trust him with our company.

A spokesman for Gooch and Thornton said they had no comment Wednesday and no plans to speak publicly.

Shoppers, meanwhile, seem to be avoiding Market Basket stores in droves. At a Hannaford supermarket in Lowell, just over the Tewksbury line and less than a half-mile from the Stadium Plaza Tewksbury Market Basket, many said they had never seen it so busy on a summer weekday.

"We're coming down to Hannaford in support for the Market Basket employees," said Don Hamilton of Billerica. "I don't know what the whole deal with the family feud over firing Artie, but Market Basket is where I shop, and I'm just trying to support the employees."

Jack Winward of Lowell said he goes to the Tewksbury Market Basket about 80 percent of the time he shops, but Wednesday was intentionally visiting the Lowell Hannaford. "I support and honor the boycott," Winward said. "That was my main reason. I also understand there's not much stuff over there. But mainly, honor the boycott."

Others, like Jenny Phillips of Billerica, said the worker protests have left the Market Basket stores where they usually shop increasingly empty.

Phillips, who with her husband Ted has two children aged 5 and 3, said, "I take the kids in the stroller and they love it, and now I can't even stop to get groceries. There's no produce, nothing. There's no meat. Unbelievable."

Many shoppers boycotting the Tewksbury Market Basket have brought over their receipts from Hannaford, which are now hanging in the front window with expressions of support and solidarity written on them. "With what we're going through right now," assistant store manager Kayla Silva said, "and how hard we're fighting, it means a lot to know that we have the customers behind us, and not just the employees. For sure."

A big pro-Arthur T. rally is planned for 9 a.m. Friday at Stadium Plaza in Tewksbury, the same location as a rally Monday morning that attracted a few thousand Market Basket workers and supporters. Later that day the Market Basket board is meeting, although it's not clear what action it may take then.

Many Market Basket employees said they feel certain the end result will be Arthur T. Demoulas returns as the day-to-day leader of Market Basket.

"I think Arthur T. will win," Drouin said. "I believe it in my heart. I think he will be back. I know he will be."

Sterzo said: "He's coming back. Period. And we're going to be here as long as it takes. He's coming back."

With videographer Mike Bellwin

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