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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Market Basket workers rally for fired chief executive

Amid the thousands of people from across the region who gathered in the sun-drenched parking lot of the Stadium Plaza Market Basket in Tewksbury, Mass., on Tuesday, Debbie Risteen of Nashua was there with her pompoms.

There were more chants of “Artie T., Artie T.”, homemade signs and a megaphone as customers joined concerned employees in a rally for Arthur T. Demoulas and the future of their jobs and their company. ...

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Amid the thousands of people from across the region who gathered in the sun-drenched parking lot of the Stadium Plaza Market Basket in Tewksbury, Mass., on Tuesday, Debbie Risteen of Nashua was there with her pompoms.

There were more chants of “Artie T., Artie T.”, homemade signs and a megaphone as customers joined concerned employees in a rally for Arthur T. Demoulas and the future of their jobs and their company.

Risteen attended the previous rally at the same location last month, but said this one was a little different.

“So much more people, the excitement, the support from the customer is the biggest one,” she said.

The rally was the fourth major protest by Market Basket workers near the company headquarters following the ouster of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and associates. The removal followed years of bitter legal wrangling between the cousins that continued even as the family-owned supermarket chain thrived throughout New England.

In recent weeks many company warehouse workers and drivers have refused to make deliveries to the 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, leaving supplies of produce and meat almost non-existent, while managers have led many hundreds of employees in rallies outside many of the company stores, including those in Greater Nashua. Customers have largely followed employees’ requests to boycott the stores, which were eerily empty Tuesday.

“Today’s the fifth; usually it would be very busy,” said Diane Sanches, front end manager of the store on Amherst Street in Nashua. The fifth of the month is when EBT or Electronic Benefit Transfer cards are updated for people on assistance, and tend to be busy days at grocery stores.

Thousands of people showed up at Tuesday’s rally and Tewksbury police detailed more than 15 officers to handle the crowd. No problems were reported during the event, which had the air of a festival.

During the two-hour event a group of workers from the Milford area stood in the shade of a pop-up canopy at the edge of the crowd.

“I don’t think any of us thought we’d still be doing this. I think everybody thought it would be over by now. But we’re still here and we’re still fighting it,” said Brian Mamczak.

Mamczak said he’d return to work “as soon as they bring back our CEO,” but admitted he’s nervous about his job.

“Who can’t be nervous in a situation like this?” he said. “It’s our jobs. I’ve worked for the company 12 years.”

Joe-Jeff Martel has worked at the Milford Market Basket for eight years. He said he has had many sleepless nights since the start of the job action.

“Everybody really stresses out about having to pay for everything,” he said.

“I’ve got student loans due on the 12th,” he said. “I’m considering bringing all my beer bottles down here just so I can get the 5 cents,” he said.

He estimated that he has spent about 150 to 200 hours picketing outside of the Milford store.

Margaret Hamilton lives in Seabrook and works at the local Market Basket. She was in the crowd Tuesday, and said “what’s different today is as associates, we were anticipating being together with our customers.”

Being from Seabrook, Hamilton was familiar with another memorable set of protests – those against the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in the 1970s.

“My dad and his brothers came from Quebec to make their living. They were all builders. When the nuclear power plant started several of my uncles went to work there laying stone, pouring concrete and putting in rebar,” she said.

“I was just about a teenager. They were very much against the protesters at that time. But I guess somewhere along the line I learned a little civil disobedience, because it’s a good cause,” she said.

Hamilton stood fast in her faith in Arthur T. Demoulas and said that if he returned there would not be changes to employee benefits or staffing levels.

“I don’t think he’ll do that,” she said. “I think he’ll be taking out loans to make payroll. I believe if he had to do it, you’d have people like me who have retired once lining up volunteering to go first before the people with families.”

Several speakers stood at the makeshift stage set up again in the bed of a Ford pickup truck near the edge of the parking lot. One of the speakers was fired operations manager Joe Schmidt.

Schmidt said that this was an “epic time in our company’s history.”

“Over the past month we’ve collectively witnessed darkness. We have felt the blows of attack on each one of us, which has been felt throughout our entire community,” he said to cheers.

“During this time we have not cowered or retreated. Quite the opposite, we have advanced and grown stronger every day,” he said. “We have shown the entire world that we can change darkness into light. We have made our mark on history. We have witnessed what human greatness is all about: people of all backgrounds standing together, for the common good of our beloved company, for the common good of man,” he said.

Nancy Kindler was a boisterous figure in the crowd, carrying a borrowed megaphone and wearing a poster of Arthur T. Demoulas over her back. She said she has been using the megaphone when going around to stores around Epping.

“I believe in everything they’re doing. The greatest thing that’s happening to this country right now is the Market Basket uprising of people who don’t belong to a union, a company that’s in the black, a CEO, Arthur T., who is an absolutely wonderful CEO who takes good care of his people. The 4 percent that he’s given to the customers and all the things they do for their customers can’t even compare to any other supermarket chain in the world,” she said.

“The momentum and camaraderie is so unbelievable,” she said. “We’re getting our country back. This country has to get united again and Market Basket is doing it in a huge way.”

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Don on Twitter @Telegraph_DonH.