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'Arthur T. Will Always Be Our President!'

Jul 18, 2014 01:35PM ● By Bill Gilman

This Market Basket employee echoes the sentiments of thousands of co-workers.

Steve Paulenka, an operations and facilities supervisor for Tewksbury-based DeMoulas Supermarket, Inc., said he came into the warehouse at the company headquarters on East Street one day this week at around 4:15 a.m. He said he ran into new co-CEO Felicia Thornton.
"This is a true story. She looked at me and asked me if I was Bob," Paulenka told nearly 3,000 DeMoulas employees gathered for a rally at company headquarters on East Street on Friday.
"I guess she hasn't been around long enough to recognize someone who's been here for 40 years."
Paulenka's story was met with a roar from the crowd, as it shined a spotlight on what the employees have said was one of former CEO and President Arthur T. DeMoulas' biggest strengths -- he considered his employees family and took the time to get to know,. not only them, but their lives and families.
Speaker after speaker at the rally sang the praises of the man they call "Artie T.", and how had either helped them and their family or had shown an interest in their lives.
Arthur T. DeMoulas is not to be confused with Arthur S. DeMoulas, Arthur T.'s cousin and the man who recently won a decades' old feud over control of the company. Arthus S. then convinced its Board of Directors to fire his cousin and bring on Thornton and James F. Gooch as Co-CEOs.
Gooch and Thornton have promised no radical changes with how the company is run but the employees say they don't believe them and want Arthur T. re-hired with full authority.
"We know their intentions," said Joe Schmidt, another supervisor of operations. "And they have no intention of doing what is in the best interests of the company."
Employees have said they suspect Arthur S.'s intention is to either sell the company, or reduce staff and raise prices to raise the profit margin of the publicly held company.
DeMoulas Supermarkets, Inc. has a unique relationship with its 25,000 employees. Its workers don't belong to unions, something the company has avoided by offering a generous benefits package, including profit sharing and a top health plan.
Schmitt said the new upper management has already taken steps to change the employees retirement plan without getting employee input.
"Everything has changed," said Schmidt.
Friday's rally came about after employee representatives, including long-time senior managers, store manages and store associates, went to the CEOs and the Board of Directors and demanded Arthur T. be re-hired. They gave until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to get a response, which came in the form of a letter from the CEO's, indicating that any employees who did not report to work Friday or walked off the job would be "permanently replaced."
"They didn't even have the decency to use the word, 'fired,'" said Paulenka. "Apparently, (the letter) didn't have the desired effect. It may have had the opposite effect."
Workers were not the only ones in attendance at the rally, they brought family members with them as well in a show of solidarity.
Susan Jussaume said her husband was the manager of Market Basket No. 17 in Billerica. All four of her children have worked for the company and some time and three of them still do. She said they are taking the threat of job termination seriously.
"We're afraid, but we're standing together," she said. "We do this job as an extended family. We are not just some commodity. But that's what we're being treated like, a commodity to be traded."
Paulenka was quick to assert that the rally on Friday was not a work stoppage of any kind. He said the individual store managers had been told by those organizing the rally to make sure the doors of the stores remained open.
However, the absence of warehouse workers and drivers resulted in no delivery trucks departing from the warehouse on East Street to make deliveries. It's estimated that if deliveries are curtailed for even a few days, the shelves at the local Market Basket stores could begin to go bare.
Employees at the Tewksbury Market Baskets on 10 Main St. and 1900 Main St. said crowds were bigger than normal today, as customers looked to stock up before any shortages that may occur.

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