TEWKSBURY (CBS) – Some 2,500 sign-waving employees protested outside Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury on Friday morning to demand the return of their old boss.
Dozens of office workers who walked out were joined by hundreds more from the company’s warehouses and stores, despite the threat it might cost them their jobs.
“If this is a poker game,” says organizer Steve Paulenka, “we just pushed all the chips to the middle of the table and went all in. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
Workers insist it is not a strike, just an ultimatum to reinstate longtime boss Arthur T. Demoulas.
He was ousted by the firm’s board of directors last month as a result of a feud within the chain’s founding family that has festered for decades.
“You have to work for this man to see,” says veteran store manager Chris Sturzo. “He is the greatest CEO in this country. I believe in him and want to work for him as long as I can. He is honorable and human.”
Indeed, many in the crowd pledged their loyalty to “Artie T” because they believe that he always put his employees and his customers first.
Store manager Stephen Distasio recounted the time he was badly hurt on the job, and Arthur T. Demoulas personally showed up at his hospital bedside, asking what his family needed in that troubled time.
“He took the time out of his busy day to come over and visit one of his employees,” marvels Distasio. “Who does that?”
“I was hired in 1974,” says Paulenka, “and I’ve never grabbed a paycheck from any place but here.”
Many like Paulenka view the company’s new leadership as corporate poachers, hired from the outside to boost the bottom line above all else.
Market Basket did not return our calls for comment. But several longtime customers turned out to lend to lend their support to the demonstration.
“These people are not here doing this just because they want to buck the system,” says Sue Hicks, pointing to the crowd. “They’re here because they want to be a part of Market Basket. They want to be a part of this company they like so much.”
It was last week that furious employees first demanded “Artie T’s” return.
And when that didn’t happen, roughly 10 percent of the supermarkets nearly 25,000 workers showed their disapproval.
They are hoping to shut down the office and two distribution centers, with the goal of choking off the truck shipments needed to stock store shelves.
“And now it’s a question of individual conscience for everybody,” says Paulenka. “How long are they going to stick with us.”
With the ‘new’ bosses threatening to permanently replace any employee who doesn’t show up for work, holding out for the ‘old’ boss is serious business.
“We’re a family and we’re going to stick together,” says store manager Sturzo. “We’re going to stand our ground until he’s back.”
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Bernice Corpuz reports