Market Basket now in customers’ hands as boycott continues, deal stalls, paychecks dwindle, and hope springs eternal
TEWKSBURY – Make no mistake, customers are now in the driver’s seat when it comes to the future of Market Basket. Declining to shop out of solidarity with workers, who continue to demonstrate – off the clock – for the return of their favored CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, the grocery story chain is losing an estimated 90 percent of weekly revenue.
Tuesday’s rally at the Stadium Plaza facility was well attended, with organizers estimating 10,000 – 12,000 attendees, but police would not confirm numbers. It was markedly smaller than the previous rally, but Interstate 495 was still backed up a reported ten miles with buses bringing people to the rally. Under the scorching sun, water stations were set up in the four corners of the lot and volunteers were distributing water throughout the crowds. Tewksbury’s Deputy Police Chief John Voto says that the organizers of the rally have been cooperative about parking, water stations, and securing private ambulance crews on site due to the heat.
State Senator Barry Finegold, and candidate for State Treasurer, was on hand for his third rally, to support the boycott he helped launch.
“We now have 160 legislators from New Hampshire and Massachusetts that have joined the boycott,” said Finegold. “The biggest difference – I see a lot of customers here to show support and step up for what they believe in.”
“The Board of Directors needs to listen to the employees and the customers. They’ve built these stores,” added Finegold.
When asked why New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan was willing to go on the record in a supportive email to store directors while Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declines to get involved, calling it a private matter, Finegold said, “I can’t speak for other politicians, but for me there is no way I can stand on the sidelines when two thousand people are willing to lose their jobs for our benefit.”
Representative Jim Miceli also attended the rally, his first, and whipped up the crowd in typical style, noting the jobs on the line and picking up on the theme of customers supporting the boycott. (A video of his speech is on the Town Crier website HomeNewsHere.com.)
Customers attended, showing their support with signs. John and Jeannine Dunn, customers for 50 years, showed their support Tuesday saying there were at the rally “to right a wrong.”
A job fair held by co-CEO’s Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch is having few applicants, according to Steve Paulenka, formerly the facilities and operations manager for Market Basket and a 41-year employee who was fired via courier two weeks ago. Paulenka was at the Andover warehouse site where the job fair was conducted, for current Market Basket employees to take over others jobs, including accountants and buyers. Security guards videotaped protestors. Paulenka noted only three cars in two hours. The co-CEO’s set up an email address Monday afternoon in response to claims that some applicants felt threatened to attend the fair. Other protestors the Town Crier spoke to corroborated Paulenka’s claims of a low turnout for the fair.
Workers are concerned as well about lost hours and the impacts on their paychecks. Drivers and warehouse workers have not received checks in two weeks. Store associates are reporting for their scheduled shifts across the chain, but with few customers, there’s little to do.
“When the stores reopen, they’ll be sparkling clean,” said Tewksbury resident and associate Cheryl Fay. The floors have been scrubbed, new paint, and power washed sidewalks comprise some of the maintenance going on while shoppers aren’t shopping. “If we had food, you could eat it off the floor,” Fay quipped.
But she and a colleague understand that with fewer customers, fewer hours are offered. They note, though, that “If this ends tomorrow, we’ll be working overtime” to stock the shelves and get the enter operation back up to speed.
On Sunday, Arthur T. Demoulas offered a rare statement on the status of the negotiations. He has stayed out of the public eye and is not in communication with most of the other fired executives. Paulenka confirmed to the Town Crier, and others have confirmed to various outlets, that they have not spoken to Artie T. since before he was fired. In the statement Sunday, Arthur offered to return to work midnight Sunday in advance of the completion of the stock purchase to stabilize the firm and “begin to restore the business.”
Arthur T. and “his side of the family have been working around the clock to pursue their offer to buy the 50.5% of shares in DSM they do not own for a full and fair price. “
“These steps are critical at this point and are in the best interests of Associates, customers, vendors and shareholders. Time is of the essence. Arthur T. is hopeful but resolution depends on the response of the other shareholders in order for an agreement to be reached.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the board of directors is weighing offers from other firms, including major food retailers and investment firms, and that Arthur T.’s offer is the only one that would require financing. With the company in turmoil, financing may be hard to secure – hence Arthur T.'s offer to return to right the ship.
Both the New Hampshire and the Massachusetts Attorneys General sent a letter to the co-CEOs last week reminding them that terminated employees must be paid full wages and benefits accrued on the date of termination. The statement came a day after the CEO’s ordered workers to return to their jobs or face termination - hence the job fair.
The CEOs issued a response that they want their associates back and “of course will follow all applicable laws.”