TEWKSBURY (CBS/AP) — A few thousand workers and customers at the troubled New England supermarket chain Market Basket rallied outside a store in Tewksbury Tuesday to pressure management to reinstate the company’s beloved former chief executive or accept his offer to buy the company.
The family-owned chain has been in turmoil since June, when a board controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas fired his cousin, CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers have refused to deliver food to the chain’s 71 stores for two weeks, leaving store shelves empty and sending customers elsewhere.
Workers are hoping Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family will accept an offer from his cousin to buy the company, which is known for its low prices.
At Tuesday’s rally workers carried signs with blown-up photographs of Arthur T. Demoulas, while loyal shoppers carried signs saying, “We are the customers. We quit.”
Joe Schmidt, one of eight middle managers fired by the company after they organized the first protests, told the crowd, “We shall never back down … we shall not rest until Arthur T. Demoulas is brought back as our president.”
T.J. Cauley said he has been protesting outside his store with other workers on his breaks and days off for the past two weeks. He said he knows he risks losing his job.
“I have concerns, but at the same time I will take the risk because this company has provided me with everything I’ve needed for the last 11 years,” he said. “Artie T. has made the company what it is. He’s genuinely interested in the associates as well as the customers.”
The rally was the fourth major gathering by workers calling for the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas.
Lisa Hultgren, a customer who has shopped at Market Basket for 25 years, said she came to the rally to show her support for the workers.
“It’s one of the few grocery store chains where you can see the same people working there week after week, year after year,” she said. “They’re nice people. It’s a very small town feeling you get in the stores.”
Steve Distasio, manager of the Market Basket store in Raynham, spent his day off attending the rally with his two children and his niece. He said 30 to 40 other workers at his store also came.
“We’re here to support Artie T.,” he said. “It’s the only way to get the company back and running right.”
On Monday, the two co-CEOs appointed to replace Arthur T. Demoulas stepped up their efforts to fight back against the workers’ revolt and customer boycott.
Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch said they heard from many employees who were “concerned for their safety” if they attend a job fair, which began Monday and is scheduled to continue through Wednesday. They said they would allow employees to apply for new jobs through email because they feel “associates interested in opportunity should be given an opportunity without fear of intimidation or harassment.”
But organizers of the protests said they believe that few, if any, Market Basket employees will attend the job fair.
Steve Paulenka, one of eight supervisors fired last month, said that about 200 employees and customers protested peacefully outside the job fair in Andover Monday.
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