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Friday, July 18, 2014

Market Basket employees threaten walkout; corporate board sets special meeting

Arthur T. Demoulas smiled down on a steady stream of shoppers at Hudson’s Market Basket on Thursday, just like he’s been doing at scores of other Market Baskets where loyal employees posted color images of him around their respective stores.

Late Thursday afternoon, Arthur Eldredge, an assistant manager of the busy Hudson store on Lowell Road, stood under one such image adorning the courtesy booth window as he wondered aloud what will come next in the intensifying standoff between the chain’s new corporate leadership and a strong majority of its 25,000 associates. ...

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Arthur T. Demoulas smiled down on a steady stream of shoppers at Hudson’s Market Basket on Thursday, just like he’s been doing at scores of other Market Baskets where loyal employees posted color images of him around their respective stores.

Late Thursday afternoon, Arthur Eldredge, an assistant manager of the busy Hudson store on Lowell Road, stood under one such image adorning the courtesy booth window as he wondered aloud what will come next in the intensifying standoff between the chain’s new corporate leadership and a strong majority of its 25,000 associates.

“Right now, it’s business as usual at Market Basket,” said Eldredge, describing things at his store as wait-and-see. “If the deliveries stop coming, then I guess we’ll be open as usual until everything is sold.

“That’s about the extent of what we know right now.”

Eldredge referred to the ultimatum that a group of employees delivered Wednesday to Market Basket’s new co-CEOs, Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton, demanding the immediate reinstatement of former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who was ousted by the company’s board after his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, gained the support of the majority of the board.

Gooch and Thornton responded Thursday, saying they don’t have the authority to reinstate Arthur T. but that board leadership agreed to hold a special “telephonic” board meeting Monday to discuss the associates’ demands. They added that “at least two Market Basket associates” are invited to participate, or can meet with the board in person July 25, according to the letter.

Workers at Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., fired the most recent volley in the feud late Thursday afternoon, announcing that they plan to walk off the job around 9:30-10 a.m. Friday.

Earlier indications that a walkout was in the making prompted Thornton and Gooch to issue a warning to employees that anyone who walks off the job will jeopardize their employment.

“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 states. It also states that management “wants to reinforce our commitment to Market Basket customers, associates, benefit plans, bonus programs, profit sharing and new stores.”

Predictions by many employees that Thornton and Gooch, under the direction of the new board, are likely to terminate many of the generous benefits they have enjoyed under Arthur T.’s direction played a large role in galvanizing employees’ protests of his removal.

In Hudson, meanwhile, several employees reiterated what Eldredge, the assistant manager, said, saying they hadn’t heard about any planned walkouts.

One of the two large chalkboards where store specials are typically advertised was devoted to Arthur T. Demoulas on Thursday. “Hudson Market Basket Proudly Supports Arthur T. Demoulas, Bill Marsden and Joe Rockwell,” the message reads, along with “We are United.”

Marsden, the former operations manager, and Rockwell, former vice president of grocery sales and merchandising, were fired along with Demoulas in June.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).