- Associated Press - Monday, July 21, 2014

TEWKSBURY, Mass. (AP) - The fired longtime chief executive of the Market Basket supermarket chain is urging the family-owned company to reinstate workers who were fired for protests demanding his return.

Arthur T. Demoulas’s statement Monday night was his first since he was fired last month by a board controlled by his rival cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.

Eight supervisory employees were fired over the weekend after leading a Friday rally demanding Demoulas be reinstated and urging workers to stop making deliveries to stores to put pressure on the company.

Demoulas said the workers shouldn’t be punished for their dedication to the company’s longtime philosophy.

“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,” he said. “Their fierce loyalty to the company and its customers has always been deeply valued.”

The workers say they fear new leadership means to eliminate the low prices for customers and good employee benefits and family atmosphere that Market Basket has been known for.

Workers said the dispute is starting to affect stores, as employees refuse to make deliveries and some shelves are left empty.

The Demoulas cousins are grandsons of the chain’s founder, and their feud dates back decades. The chain has 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The company said the eight workers were fired because “their actions continued to harm the company, negatively impacted customers, and inhibited associates’ ability to perform their jobs.”

At another rally Monday, one of the fired workers, Steve Paulenka, a former facilities and operations supervisor, estimated the crowd at 5,000 people.

“You go back to your stores. Shut it down,” Paulenka told a cheering crowd.

In an open letter to customers published Saturday in The Boston Globe, Market Basket co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch apologized to shoppers.

“Unfortunately, in response to the recent management changes, some have lost sight of the top priority - taking care of you - and instead have engaged in actions that harm Market Basket’s reputation and prevent us from meeting our obligations to you,” the letter said.

Some Massachusetts lawmakers have called for a boycott of the company, led by state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, whose district includes the company’s headquarters in Tewksbury. As of Monday, 37 state lawmakers and mayors had agreed to encourage constituents to stop shopping at Market Basket until Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated, said Finegold, who attended Monday’s rally.

“I’ve never seen a rally where workers are not asking for more wages or benefits. All they are asking for is the reinstatement of the person that’s been running this company,” Finegold said. “It’s about keeping the culture of this company they’ve built that’s benefited so many all these years. So many people are paycheck to paycheck. If you can save 10 percent of your food bill, it’s a big deal.”

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