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Rindge

Call for grocery store boycott

Market Basket workers show their support with rally

  • Market Basket employees gathered outside of the Rindge Store on Monday night, asking for customers to boycott the store for one week.
  • Market Basket employees rallied outside of the Rindge Market Basket on Monday night, requesting that customers take their business elsewhere for one week in a show of support for former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
  • Market Basket employees gathered outside of the Rindge Store on Monday night, asking for customers to boycott the store for one week.
  • Market Basket employees gathered outside of the Rindge Store on Monday night, asking for customers to boycott the store for one week.
  • Market Basket employees gathered outside of the Rindge Store on Monday night, asking for customers to boycott the store for one week.
  • Ashley Ellsworth, left, a Market Basket employee of more than eight years, encourages customers to boycott Market Basket in a show of support for former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
  • Morgan Curtis, left, a Market Basket employee of six years, stands with Elsie Breen of Troy, as Breen signs a petition in support of Arthur T. Demoulas.
  • Market Basket employees speak with Market Basket customer Elsie Breen of Troy as Breen signs a petition in support of Arthur T. Demoulas during a demonstration by employees that encouraged shoppers to boycott Market Basket for the week.

RINDGE — Employees of Market Basket in Rindge gathered in front of the store’s entrance Monday night holding signs asking customers to boycott the store. The boycott should go on, the picketers said, until employees receive an answer from the store’s Board of Directors on whether or not the board will acquiesce to workers’ demands to return recently ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to power.

Those who chose to forgo the requests of the assembled picketers and do their shopping at Market Basket may not have found what they were looking for, either; employee clashes with the new CEOs have led to a walkout of warehouse workers and truck drivers, leaving local stores short on — or entirely without — short shelf-life items.

Employees organized a walkout of warehouse workers in Massachusetts on Thursday, a week after submitting a demand to the company’s new CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, calling for the return of Arthur T. Demoulas.

According to published reports, Thornton and Gooch replied to the demand by stating that as CEOs they did not have the authority to reinstate Demoulas, and that the request had been communicated to the chair of the board of directors. Calls to the Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., seeking comment were not answered by press time.

On July 17, Thornton and Gooch distributed a letter to all Market Basket workers, which said they had communicated the demand from office associates to the chair. They responded similarly to a renewed demand on July 16, informing employees there would be a telephone board meeting scheduled for Monday, and inviting some Market Basket associates to join the teleconference or meet with the board on July 25 to convey their concerns in person.

Thornton and Gooch stated a commitment to Market Basket customers, associates, benefit plans, bonus programs and profit sharing in their letter, but also made it clear that walkouts such as the one that came on Thursday would lead to firings.

“We believe that while all the communication to us has been represented as unanimous — this is an individual decision that each of you have to make, whether you wish to continue to work at Market Basket. To be clear — doing your job is continuing to do the same type of work that you regularly do every day — not newly defined tasks from your supervisor. If you choose to abandon your job or refuse to perform your job requirements, you will leave us no choice but to permanently replace you,” the letter reads. “Any action is an individual choice and we hope that your top priority continues to be taking care of the Market Basket customer.”

According to the website wearemarketbasket.com, started by employees to track developments in the dispute, there have been firings of at least eight Market Basket employees throughout the company since Thursday: Joe Garon, Tom Trainor, Tom Gordon, Steve Paulenka, Jim Lacourse, Dean Joyce, Joe Schmidt and Mike Kettenbach, who were notified of their termination via courier over the course of the weekend. At least one employee has reported that he will contest his firing on legal grounds.

The effect on the shopper

The shelves of the Rindge Market Basket are running low in some areas, particularly fresh meat and produce, as a result of walkouts of truck drivers, warehouse managers and supervisors, according to Bill Dube, the manager of the Rindge Market Basket.

Virtually everything in the produce department at the Rindge Market Basket is gone, said Dube, as are the fresh cuts of chicken. The fish counter is running low on selection as the store sells out of its current inventory, and the store is also running low on beef, pork and lamb as it uses up its stored supply. Anything that the store receives direct from a vendor, including bananas, alcohol, soda, steamers and lobster will still be in stock as usual.

The general groceries are in a better position, although still lighter in stock than they would be under normal circumstances, said Dube. The Rindge store received a regular grocery delivery on Sunday at noon, although the truck was two days late.

Despite allowing multiple employees to take a sick day Monday to attend a rally for Arthur T. Demoulas at the store in Tewksbury, Mass., where Market Basket headquarters is located, Dube said the Rindge store is still fully staffed, and will remain so. None of the fired employees worked at the Rindge store, Dube confirmed.

Lisa Carter of Wilton, who frequents the Milford Market Basket, said in an interview Monday she would be making a run to the store later that day. “I had a friend tell me, ‘If you want any fresh produce, don’t go,’ so I guess I’ll hit the farm stands for that,” she said, jokingly. Carter said she was willing to endure the short-term inconvenience of having to shop around for some items, if it meant the best decisions for the future of the company were being made. “I’m definitely more for keeping the prices low,” she said.

Carter added that she doubted that the Market Basket Board of Directors would bring back the former CEO without some major incentive. “It depends how long they stay on strike. If a bunch of people start going elsewhere, and they see a big loss, they may listen to people,” she said.

On Monday night, Market Basket customer Jessie Halbedel decided to participate in a boycott of Market Basket being encouraged by off-duty employees at the entrance to the Rindge store. He said he based his decision on a mix of support for the employees, and the lack of selection that was currently at the Market Basket store.

Another customer, Bethany Guion of Fitzwilliam, said while on her way out of Market Basket with a cart that despite her decision to shop there Monday, she still gave her support to the employees. There are certain brands that she can only purchase at Market Basket, she said, so she had made the decision to shop there, but she signed the petition that employees were distributing asking for support for Arthur T. Demoulas. “I’m absolutely in support,” she said. “I think they’re doing what they need to. I shop here because I like the family atmosphere.” She had even met Arthur T. Demoulas once when he was visiting the store, she said, and he had helped her bag and unload her groceries.

Among the employees rallying for a Market Basket boycott was Patty Kelly, whose children work at the store. “I’ve shopped here for 25 years. If you have happy employees, you’re probably doing something right,” said Kelly of why she was supporting Arthur T. Demoulas, while holding a sign proclaiming “I [love] Artie T.’s Market Basket but will not shop here until the board fixes its mess!”

The rally at Tewksbury

Despite reassurances, many Market Basket employees believe that under new leadership profits — and not the focus on customers and employees — will take precedence.

Jessica Fortier, who has been an employee at Market Basket for 10 years and currently works at the Rindge store, was at a rally of Market Basket employees at the Tewksbury, Mass., store on Monday morning, along with her fellow employees, carrying petitions with signatures collected from customers over the past few days.

“Artie T. is probably the most caring CEO of our time. He has provided us, the employees, with unheard of benefits, profit sharing, and bonuses. But above all that, he has provided a sense of family for us,” wrote Fortier in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Monday. Fortier said that in his visits to her stores, Arthur T. Demoulas had interacted personally with many employees and recalled personal details about them. When she first met Demoulas in 2008, she was pregnant with her first child and had a short conversation with Demoulas in which she told him she was expecting a girl. She next met him three years later.

“Before I said anything to him, he shook my hand and said ‘Hi, Jess. How have you been? How’s that little girl of yours doing?’ He remembered me? That’s what these people are fighting for,” Fortier wrote. “That’s what the new CEO’s don’t seem to understand. Never working in a Market Basket did you have to worry about your job. That’s all gone now.” Fortier was one of about 25 full-time employees from the Rindge Market Basket who attended the rally, according to Dube.

Dube said the walkout of warehouse employees and the resulting shortages were part of a higher purpose. “The upper management discussed it and came to an agreement that this was the way to get the company back,” he said. “I hope it’s going to work. Everybody’s hoping.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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