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Selectmen: It's A Private Matter, We Won't Take Sides In Market Basket War

Jul 23, 2014 04:50PM ● By Bill Gilman

Joe Garon at the Market Basket Rally on Monday, July 21. Andy Sylvia photo.

The Tewksbury Board of Selectmen has declined to take sides in the ongoing, and escalating, war between Market Basket/DeMoulas employees and it's Co-CEOs and Board of Directors.
Four members of the board met in special session at the temporary Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Board members expressed concerns about the situation but were unanimous in their view that it would be inappropriate to take an official stance in what they deemed to be a labor issue within a private company.
"As a board, I don't think we should take a position one way or another, said Selectman Jim Wentworth. "This is a private organization and an internal matter."
Board Chairman Todd Johnson admitted he had some significant concerns about the situation and said "once the dust clears" that representatives of the board, along with Town Manager Richard Montuori, should meet with management from DeMoulas to discuss those concerns, as they might with any business entity in town. In the meantime, he said, it's best for the board to not enter the fray.
"I think it would be a bad precedent for us to meddle in a private matter," said Johnson.
Market Basket workers have been protesting to force the re-hiring of ousted CEO/President Arthur T. DeMoulas. Arthur T. was fired after losing a Board of Directors power struggle with his cousin, Arthur S. DeMoulas. The pair have been battling over control of the company for many years. Arthur T. was replaced by co-CEO's Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton. Twelve employees have been fired since the protests began, including seven members of senior management who are leaders in the rebellion.
Selectman Bruce Panalaitis has a unique perspective on the ongoing labor strife. He has two sons who work as baggers for Market Basket.
"On a personal level, I feel for the workers," said Panalaitis. "I would like to see both sides get together and de-escalate the situation."
Selectman Scott Wilson expressed concerns that the ongoing battle, which has seen empty store shelves, wide scale "sick outs" and has led to a growing customer boycott, is having a negative ripple effect on the economy of the town.
"The longer this goes on, the more it hurts the community," said Wilson. "You have people going out of town to buy their groceries. And the nearby stores like the liquor stores and (pharmacies) are losing business also."
Selectman David Gay was unable to attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict.
While local elected officials may not want to take sides in the Market Basket saga, state and federal lawmakers and candidates have not shied away. Congressman John Tierney (D-6th District) and his Democratic primary challenger Seth Moulton, have both thrown their support squarely behind the workers.
“I stand with Market Basket employees and urge the new management to listen to their concerns, treat them fairly, and respect their voices," said Tierney, in a statement. "  believe it is in the company, customer and community’s best interest for these employees – some of whom have worked at Market Basket for decades – to be able to articulate their views without having to fear losing their jobs or earned benefits."
Moulton handed out water to Market Basket protesters on Tuesday and encouraged their efforts.
"Market Basket workers deserve action. I was proud to stand with workers today to sign their petition, hand out water, and discuss the situation," said Moulton, on his Facebook page.

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