Market Basket On the Brink

July 25, 2014
By

A simple sign – printed on the bright orange ‘sale’ cards that are so much a part of Market Basket – hung in the entrance of the Chelsea store last Thursday and Friday and made that store’s position clear – “We support Arthur T.”

As that pronouncement of support for the company’s beloved former CEO was trumpeted to all going in the store, at the Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury last Friday, thousands of employees and executives made the point even clearer.

Some of them – like David McLean who spearheaded the building of the new Chelsea store several years ago – had already been fired.

Others, like Tom Trainor – a store manager who spoke passionately last month at a parking lot rally outside the Chelsea store – were shown the door via a certified letter on Monday following the rally.

Most, however, did not seem to care all that much.

Many told media outlets, including the Chelsea Record, that they were prepared long ago to make their stand.

The firings of several key employees – many with decades of experience – prompted the first comment from Arthur T. Demoulas late on Monday night. In his comments, he called on the new management – led by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas – to reinstate the workers that were fired.

“This is the first time I have commented publicly on the recent events at Market Basket,” he said, noting that he is still a shareholder in the company. “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. Their fierce loyalty to the company and its customers has always been deeply valued. 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. I urge that they be reinstated in the best interest of the company and our customers.”

McLean remarked on Friday night following the rally that he was amazed by the outpouring from the public and from employees.

“I am amazed but not surprised by this display of loyalty to Arthur T. Demoulas,” he said. “There is no better team than the Market Basket family of Associates. They are passionate, dedicated and loyal – to both Market Basket and Arthur T. Together we have built this company.  We are very worried about these hard working people and their families. Family has always been our top priority.  And that will never change.”

What that loyalty has also spawned is a breakdown in food shipments and a complete shroud of mystery for stores that are built but never opened. As the situation at Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury continues to roil on, the Revere store on Squire Road that never opened is even further from ever opening and the Chelsea store is slowly running out of food.

Observations early this week showed that the produce section – long a place crowded with shoppers, flush with vegetables and having a banana stockman who seemed to never stopped refreshing the shelf – was empty in places and covered over with paper.

The situation has even sparked local and legislative action.

Just about everyone is chiming in on the situation and the desire to have things go back to the way they were. Most, however, are standing with the employees.

City Council President Matt Frank said this week that he is boycotting the store. However, he said he worries for those who depend upon the prices at Market Basket to feed their families.

“I personally can boycott them,” he said. “I can jump in a car and protest the move by driving to another store and paying 20 or 25 percent more. I worry about the people who cannot do that. There are a lot of people who depend on Market Basket in Chelsea and need those low prices to buy their food. If the new company decides to change that and move to higher prices and different items, I wonder how people in Chelsea will be able to handle that.”

He also added that he doesn’t trust the new leadership of the company to continue the build out at the Chelsea shopping center given that they have abandoned new stores such as the one in Revere.

“I think it speaks a lot that workers aren’t asking for more money, not asking for better benefits, but just that this leader that worked well with them, Arthur T., be restored to his position,” Frank said. “They are actually putting their livelihood on the line for him and that really says something. As a civic leader in Chelsea, they were spearheading a major redevelopment effort here. How can I trust this new leadership to continue that responsibly when I see them going into other communities like Revere and building a new store and not opening it. They have gone in and taken prime real estate there and in other places and left their city leaders looking silly because the brand new stores are just sitting there. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence for what they might end up doing here.”

City Manager Jay Ash reiterated his support for Arthur T. once again this week as well. He has been a staunch supporter of the former CEO since the turmoil in the company began one year ago.

“I have and remain supportive of Arthur T., admire his leadership and appreciate all he has done for Chelsea,” he said.

Among the state legislative delegation, a petition of lawmakers has been circulated by State Sen. and State Treasurer Candidate Barry Finegold. He is calling for the restoration of Arthur T. to his position and to support the Market Basket workers.

The North Andover Democrat was joined by Chelsea State Reps. Dan Ryan and RoseLee Vincent, as well as State Sen. Sal DiDomenico.

In a visit to Revere on Monday, Finegold told the Record that a lot is at stake.

“I was at another rally on Monday and there were people with 30, 40 and 50 years experience speaking out and putting their jobs on the line,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in all my years. This is very important because the economic impact that Chelsea and Revere will feel will be a huge deal. We started this effort because we wanted to stand with the employees. You never see this happening anywhere. They don’t want more money; they don’t want better benefits. They just want the Market Basket culture to continue.”

Too many, however, worry that it might be too late.


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