Market Basket Employees ‘Stick Necks Out’ at Huge Rally in Tewksbury

For the second time in four days, thousands of Market Basket employees flocked to Tewksbury to protest the firing of former Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and demand his re-instatement.

Leaders of the employee movement, who were fired by courier by the company’s current leadership late Sunday afternoon, said their fight must now head to the stores.

There appeared to be growing momentum for a boycott of stores at the rally. Employees had previously encouraged customers to continue to shop, but organizers of the rally gave several minutes for state politicians to speak in support of a boycott, which they had previously endorsed over the weekend. The idea was met with cheers. More than 30 elected officials have signed on to the boycott proposal at this point.

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Meanwhile, Joe Garon, a senior grocery buyer who was fired Sunday, and his wife, Kathleen Garon, both endorsed the idea. Their calls were also met with cheers.

This note was seen at the Haverhill store after the rally and posted on Twitter. An employee at the Haverhill store confirmed the note had been posted.

Organizers of the rally urged store employees to take up action at Monday’s rally.

“It’s 25,000 associates against five directors” on the company’s board, ousted long-time employee Tom Trainor told attendees at the rally Monday. He was referring to the faction of the company’s board of directors that voted to fire Demoulas and replace him with new co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch last month.

Trainor and fellow movement leader Steve Paulenka, who was also fired Sunday, encouraged store workers to further efforts to “shut down” stores. Over the weekend, several stores began to report diminishing supplies, especially of perishable items, as the company’s warehouse workers and drivers began efforts to halt deliveries to stores in order to pressure management.

Paulenka told Boston.com that employees can decide for themselves how they want to approach the next week, but said he thought they could stand on the sidewalks outside of stores rather than working inside them in the next step of the employee movement’s efforts. “Be in front of the stores,” he said, “not inside taking care of business. Let people see you in the community.”

Among the politicians to speak at the event were state senators Barry Finegold, who is also running for treasurer and leading the boycott proposal, Eileen Donaghue, and Sal DiDomenico.

The Market Basket situation went haywire over the weekend, as stores began to see thinning shelves and Thornton and Gooch responded in kind by firing Trainor, Paulenka, and several other long-time executives. Demoulas was fired from the company last month, along with two other executives, and several others resigned. Paulenka, who emceed both Friday’s rally at company headquarters and today’s at one of the chain’s Tewksbury locations, said that in the past month more than 600 years of collective experience have been lost from the company’s upper ranks.

For more on the weekend’s events and the history of the conflict, including why employees are so passionate about the issue, see this article.

Monday’s rally drew an estimated 5,000 people. That outnumbered the impressive turnout of Friday’s rally, which drew between 2,500 and 3,000.

Among the attendees Monday were employees and customers. Several customers Boston.com spoke with said they would not shop at stores until employees’ demands for Demoulas’s re-instatement were met. Many employees carried home-made signs and wore T-shirts and pins in support of Demoulas. Some employees wore pins with a giraffe on them because they were “sticking their necks out.”

Boston.com also confirmed that at least one vendor was also on-hand at the rally, and a separate vendor was on-hand at Friday’s rally, which would indicate support for the movement from other parts of the supply chain.

Business academics have also been in the crowds, studying the story as an interesting wrinkle in American labor relations. Market Basket employees are not unionized, and both management and rank-and-file employees are rallying together for the re-instatement of an executive.

Market Basket’s board planned last week to hold a special meeting by telephone today to discuss employees’ demands, at which two employees would be invited to speak to the board. However, at least one of the employees invited has already been fired. It’s unclear if that meeting will even be held. A spokesperson for Market Basket’s board did not respond to requests for comment to clarify that point.

The Save Market Basket Facebook page, which has served as an organizing vessel for the employee action, now has more than 36,000 followers—up about 10,000 since before the weekend began.