MANCHESTER — With the sounds of Sister Sledge loudly proclaiming “We are Family” behind him, a sign supporting ‘Artie T.’ held high, Jeffery Betterini of Epping felt right at home during a rally outside the Market Basket store on Elm Street last night.
“These people are like family,” said Betterini. “Everyone here knows me as ‘Mr. B.’ I walk in the store, and people know me by name. These people have always been there for me, helped me with whatever I asked for. Why wouldn’t I be there for them now?”
Betterini was among the more than 60 people gathered along Elm Street last night to take part in a rally organized by Market Basket customers, showing their support for ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
“We are the customers of Market Basket, and we are two million strong!” screamed a message from portable speakers, as drivers in cars and trucks voice their support by honking as they passed.
Friday marked the deadline the company gave to workers to either return to work or be fired. The company sent letters earlier this week to 200 employees who work at headquarters and the company’s distribution center in Tewksbury, Mass.
Jillian Murphy, a front end manager at the Elm Street location, said she has been taking part in the protests on her own time, while continuing to work her shifts. She was amazed at the early turnout for the rally.
“This is very unique circumstances, but we are flattered that they step up and support us like this,” said Murphy. “They are the ones that are driving this effort right now.”
On Thursday, Market Basket CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch sent a letter to store managers, telling them to have employees remove all “Boycott Market Basket” signs and requests for donations to associates.
The executives said that associates should be ordered to “remove all signs, posters or other written material and drawings” that is not related to pricing, store layout or required by the government to be displayed.
“No signs are coming down here,” said Murphy.
Many of the Market Basket customers at Friday’s rally are boycotting stores until Arthur T. Demoulas, is returned to control. Some workers are picketing stores during their off hours, while some have stayed off the job.
Earlier rallies drew thousands of workers from three New England states, including New Hampshire. Market Basket operates about 30 stores in the Granite State.
“One of my best friends’ husband works for Market Basket, so I just want to support them,” said Doreen Berendes of Manchester. “It’s about principles. What has happened here is wrong. It’s about stopping the greed. I’ve been shopping at Hannaford’s.”
“This is about supporting what Arthur T. stands for,” said Carl Olsen of Tewksbury, who drove to the Queen City to be a part of the rally. “He has a good heart, and would help anyone who needs it. Now they need us.”
Christine Murphy of Manchester said she has switched to shopping at Hannaford’s while the dispute plays out, but would come back immediately if Arthur T. is reinstated.
“But if he’s gone, I’m gone,” said Murphy. “And a lot of these people will be gone with me.”