Market Basket employees fighting for ousted CEO
Three people wear t-shirts at the rally for Arthur T. at the Market Basket on Main Street in Tewksbury, Mass Monday. There was going to be another rally at headquarters but they were told they would have been arrested for trespassing. The crowd was estimated to be 3,000.
The rally at the Market Basket on Main Street in Tewksbury, Mass Monday in support of Arthur T.
Market Basket employees across New England will be trying to run their grocery stores as usual today, after a second rally was held yesterday at a Tewskbury, Mass., location, near the company’s headquarters. But they still won’t be getting deliveries from the company’s main warehouse, said one Concord manager.
Robin Jarvis, a manager at the Storrs Street Market Basket, said he was joined by thousands of current and former employees, as well as customers from across New England yesterday in Tewksbury.
With signs, T-shirts and chants, the crowd tried again to tell the company’s board of directors to reinstate ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.
“It was amazing, that’s the best way to put it. The voices of customers when they cheered were almost as loud as the voices of the employees,” Jarvis said last night.
Several state and local politicians from Massachusetts attended yesterday’s event; 31 have signed a letter calling for a boycott and Gov. Maggie Hassan issued a statement supporting the employees.
“It’s heartening to see just how much the workers of Market Basket value the company and respect its past, present and future,” she wrote. “I encourage Market Basket leadership to . . . quickly address the situation with a focus on keeping their dedicated workers employed and reducing the impact on customers.”
Market Basket has 71 stores with 25,000 employees in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Customers and employees across the region reported empty shelves yesterday as delivery trucks that were scheduled to bring fresh produce, meat and deli products never arrived.
Jarvis’s store is still stocked with soda, dairy and eggs, because those are delivered by independent vendors. The company’s main warehouse in Tewksbury has been sending only a fraction of the normal volume of deliveries since the first protest Friday.
Yesterday’s rally was the second event in support of Demoulas, who was fired last month after the board sided with his cousin and longtime rival Arthur S. Demoulas, and brought in two new co-CEOs.
The new heads of the company warned that employees who didn’t show up for work or perform their jobs would be terminated. Since the first rally, eight senior managers have been fired, including the supervisor of the main warehouse.
Later yesterday, Arthur T. Demoulas issued a statement, his first since being fired, and he urged that the employees who have lost their jobs be reinstated.
“The success of Market Basket is the result of two things: a business model that works and the execution of it by a dedicated and impassioned team of associates. . . . In the final analysis, this is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it.”
Jarvis, who has been with the company for more than 36 years, said he was concerned about losing his job for attending the rallies. “But if things go the way they are, I might not have a job next year anyway,” he said.
Jarvis and other employees, including speakers at the rallies, say they’re worried the company’s new leadership will focus on generating short-term profits by raising prices, cutting benefits and wages, and laying off highly-paid longtime employees.
Whether that’s really the board’s intention is hard to say, said longtime grocery industry analyst John Rand, senior vice president of market insights at Kantar Retail in Boston.
Market Basket has built a reputation over decades as a chain that looks for profits in high volume, not wide margins.
“If I was running Market Basket right now, I wouldn’t jump the prices. With all this attention, that would be the worst move ever. The light is on. It’s a bad time to get caught with your hands in the cookie jar,” he said.
Customers who found empty shelves this weekend or purposely went elsewhere as part of a boycott could return, he said.
Few of Market Basket’s competitors are positioned to absorb the store’s value-conscious shoppers. In fact, he could name only one: Wal-Mart.
“But it takes a long time to damage a brand as strong as Market Basket, to change behavior permanently,” he said.
Market Basket employees are confident they’ll be able to start serving customers again before that happens, Jarvis said.
“Our opinion is, if anything, when – and I say when, not if – Arthur T. comes back, we may be stronger than we were before. We’ll get all our customers back plus some new customers,” he said.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)