Market Basket Employees Demand Reinstatement of Ousted CEO

Tewksbury, MA 071514 Sign supporting ousted president Art hur T. Demoulas (cq) sits at the entrance of Market Basket's corporate offices in Tewksbury, Tuesday, July 15 2014. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff) section: Business slug: 16demoulas reporter: Erin Ailworth
A sign supporting ousted president Art hur T. Demoulas sits at the entrance of Market Basket's corporate offices in Tewksbury.
Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

Employees at Demoulas Super Markets, which runs the Market Basket supermarket chain, have set a deadline of 4:30 p.m. today for the company to re-install former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to his post.

Employees delivered an ultimatum to Market Basket’s new co-CEOs, Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton, demanding that the company’s board return Demoulas to his position with full authority, and that a non-answer from the board will be considered a “no.” Employees also said they will not work for anybody but Demoulas. The demands were also written in a letter, shared online.

Gooch and Thornton have said they do not have the authority to make such a decision and that they have delivered the message to the company’s board.

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Demoulas was fired last month by the board, which is controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. The board had previously tried to fire Arthur T. last year, and have indicated a disapproval of how Arthur T. used company money.

Employees, who have rallied in support of Arthur T. over the past year, are worried the move to remove Arthur T. could lead to cuts in their compensation, which is considered among the best in the industry, and boosts to the company’s low prices, which attract customers. Employees have also speculated the move to remove Arthur T. might be the first step in a plan to sell the company, and point to the appointment of Gooch and Thornton, brought in after serving as executives elsewhere, as inconsistent with the company’s culture of promoting from within.

Employees have been rallying customers to support Arthur T., and have decked out the company’s Tewksbury headquarters with signage in support of their ousted leader.

It’s unclear what the “or else” to employees’ demands could be.

District manager Tom Trainor tells Boston.com that the ball is in the board’s court, and expects they’ll at least address the demand. “I can’t imagine they’d have so little regard for us not to meet with us,” he said over the phone. As for what would happen if they didn’t, he said: “We’ll see.”

On the pro-Arthur T. Save Market Basket Facebook page, which has more than 20,000 followers comprising of employees and customers, an update was posted this morning saying “all is quiet so far” at the company’s headquarters.

Gooch and Thornton issued a statement yesterday, published in The Boston Herald, addressing the employees’ demands, and hinting that they found its presentation unacceptable. “When we attempted to acknowledge their concern and respond on the status of the request, these employees instead left the meeting. We also are aware of a memo they issued, although it was not immediately given to us by these employees. This behavior is not appropriate nor is it in keeping with Market Basket’s culture of respect.”

But Trainor disputed that characterization on the Save Market Basket page, writing: “This was not a meeting nor was it a dialogue, the message delivery lasted all of 30 seconds.”

He added:

“Part of our culture of mutual respect is to call ourselves and each other associates, not employees, because we work together as a family. ... Another key component of Market Basket’s culture of respect is to tell the truth to associates when asked questions. As for the memo, we had that emailed to Ms. Thornton and Mr. Gooch so they could clearly see what we were asking since neither of them took notes. I don’t think that was inappropriate at all.”

This article has been updated to include comments from Tom Trainor to Boston.com.