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July 22. 2014 8:31PM

Tempers flare as Market Basket protests continue


Market Basket Dairy Supervisor Jack Demoulas (in jacket and tie) heads back to his car after clashing with protesters outside the company's distribution center in Tewksbury, Mass., Tuesday. (Barbara Taormina/Union Leader Correspondent)

TEWKSBURY, Mass. — Market Basket Dairy Supervisor Jack Demoulas confronted a small crowd of protesters at the supermarket chain’s distribution center in Tewksbury, Mass., Tuesday morning, but was quickly shouted down by workers.

Demoulas drove his car up to the group of about 75 warehouse employees and delivery truck drivers who were continuing to protest the firing of former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, across the street from the Tewksbury plant.

Employees who load and drive delivery trucks have been calling in sick in the hope of shutting off supplies to the chain’s 71 stores. Other employees have spread out to hold signs and picket individual stores.

Jack Demoulas ripped down a “Save Market Basket” sign, and told the protesters they should return to their jobs. Workers yelled back that Demoulas should go back to his job and do the right thing. Demoulas, who appeared visibly frustrated, folded the sign, tossed it in the back seat of his Buick, and drove off.

Although some employees consider Jack Demoulas a moderate voice on the management side of the struggle over leadership of the family-owned grocery store chain, warehouse supervisor Dean Joyce, who was fired on Sunday along with seven other long-time managers, was not impressed with the visit.

“I want my workers to go back,” said Joyce. “But we have a lot of pride. We follow the Arthur T. Demoulas philosophy; this is a people business first, and a grocery business second.”

Employees demanding Arthur T’s reinstatement fear the company’s new leadership will shift the direction of the discount grocery chain and put profits ahead of customers and employee benefits and profit sharing.

“The board of directors is supposed to meet Friday to discuss everything,” said Dean. “All they have to do is bring Arthur back.”

New co-CEOs Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton issued this statement Tuesday night:

“We share many of the sentiments that Arthur T. Demoulas articulated in his statement (Monday). The success of Market Basket and the loyalty of both its associates and customers is indeed the result of the dedication and hard work of thousands, from all ranks of the company. Our cashiers and store associates are as important as senior executives. The individuals who were terminated took significant actions that harmed the company and therefore compromised Market Basket’s ability to be there for our customers. We took the difficult step of termination only after we saw no alternative.

“We are committed to continuing the tradition of excellence and dedication that has been built over several decades. We strongly encourage all associates to return their focus to Market Basket’s customers, their needs and expectations. We understand the strain and emotion facing Market Basket associates. We know and understand that trust and acceptance are earned and cannot be demanded or imposed. We are committed to earning the trust and acceptance of our associates and Market Basket’s customers and hope that our associates will judge us not on our promises, but on our actions as we move forward.”

Joe Rubert, a warehouse worker who was doling out ice-cold bottles of water to fellow protesters in Tewksbury Tuesday, said many Market Basket stores have been picked clean.

“There are 240 employees who work in the warehouse,” said Rubert, who added that the distribution system is too large and too detailed to hand over to a crew of temporary workers.

“They can’t keep up with what they need to do,” he said.

Rubert said he believes workers will succeed if they stay united.

“We are too right to be wrong,” he said.

Delivery truck driver Buddy Wenners said the temporary drivers haven’t been able to keep up with the demand for new stock.

“All of us have gone around checking stores and there are a lot of empty shelves,” he said.

Wenners, who plans to use all of his employee sick time to continue protesting, said support from political leaders and the public has been a big boost.

“The fight is strong,” he said.

btaormina@newstote.com



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