Thousands of Market Basket employees and supporters rallied Monday in support of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and eight other workers fired over the weekend, amid a roiling family feud over control of the grocery chain and an intensifying revolt by workers.
"We're not going back till he's back," one employee told a crowd decked out in T-shirts proclaiming "We Want Artie T." and "Market Basket Strong" at the Stadium Plaza mall.
"Bring our CEO back!" they chanted, along with a deafening call and response of "What's your name?" and "Market Basket!"
Current and fired employees from across New England took to the podium to urge workers to refuse to work and customers to boycott until the man they affectionately call Artie T., pushed out last month by a board controlled by his cousin, was reinstated.
Ralliers said truck drivers' refusal to come to work is beginning to leave many stores short of produce, meat and packaged groceries and costing the company profits. Eight employees were fired over the weekend after skipping work for a rally held Friday.
"The eyes of business across America are on this company right now," rally speaker Tom Trainor, a Market Basket manager who was fired Sunday, told the cheering crowd at the Stadium Plaza mall. With family members and supporters, it appeared the total crowd numbered into the thousands. "When we succeed, they will be teaching this in MBA school, I guarantee you."
Dean Joyce, the former warehouse director who was also let go on Sunday, sounded a note of hope as he addressed the crowd.
"We'll all be back," he said. "Arthur T. always had our backs… Now it's time for us to have his."
Tom Gordon, a former district grocery supervisor whose termination papers a courier had delivered to his daughter on Sunday, vowed to return to Market Basket "as the same ornery SOB" he's always been.
Arthur T. Demoulas was fired as CEO earlier this summer after a faction of directors allied with his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, gained control of the company.
The cousins, grandchildren of the supermarket chain's founders, have been feuding for decades. The 25,000-worker, 71-store chain has an estimated $300 million in cash on hand, and some directors and shareholders are demanding bigger dividends and payouts.
Market Basket's new management team has not responded to requests for comment.
Monday's rally came on the heels of a similar rally held at the company's headquarters in Tewksbury on Friday and the firing over the weekend of eight longtime employees who helped organize the show of support for Arthur T. Demoulas.
The company said in a statement that eight employees were fired because "their actions continued to harm the company, negatively impacted customers, and inhibited associates' ability to perform their jobs."
Meanwhile, some Market Basket stores started running out of food 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, who represents the district in which Tewksbury headquarters are located. He said that 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.
Speakers at the rally outside the Stadium Plaza Market Basket sounded a similar note.
"We know you're afraid. We all are," Trainor, the fired manager, told the crowd. "But this is history in the making. Never before has a company galvanized together, from top senior management down to part-time front-line workers with one goal. And that goal, to bring ATD back."
"Now is the time to deliver the knockout punch, and we need your help to do it," he added.
"We're all very sad," Linda Kulis, a 34-year Market Basket veteran who works in accounts receivable at company headquarters in Tewksbury, said of Arthur T.'s ouster. "He's a member of the family, and it's like there's a death in the family."
"Bring him back. That's all we want. One simple request. Bring back the CEO that built this business," said John Sevastis, a 37-year company veteran and Fitchburg store director. "He cares about us, and we're not going to give up on him. Never."
Arthur T. Demoulas, who is still a major shareholder of the family-owned company, responded to the day's protests Monday evening with a statement, his first yet on the recent events.
"The success of Market Basket is the result of two things: a business model that works and the execution of it by a dedicated and impassioned team of associates. Their fierce loyalty to the company and its customers has always been deeply valued," he said.
"In the final analysis, this is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it," he added. "I urge that they be reinstated in the best interest of the company and our customers."
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