TEWKSBURY - Workers at Market Basket headquarters planned to walk off the job this morning in protest, the latest and most severe action among frequent calls for the rehiring of their former boss, Arthur T. Demoulas.
And they could be putting their jobs on the line.
In a letter to employees Thursday, co-CEOs Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton said they could fire anyone who fails to perform their job.
"If you choose to abandon your job or refuse to perform your job requirements, you will leave us no choice but to permanently replace you," they said.
Employees wrote to Gooch and Thornton on Wednesday demanding that Demoulas be reinstated. They wanted an answer by Thursday afternoon, but instead got a brief meeting and the letter. Gooch and Thornton said they've forwarded the request for Demoulas' reinstatement to the chain's board of directors, which has the authority to hire him back.
The walk-out was planned for around 9:30 a.m. at the company's headquarters at 875 East St.
Employees said the walk-out will include the headquarters' office and warehouse workers, and many store employees said they planned to join the rally. There will be no deliveries in or out of the site, they said.
The showdown will take place one year to the day after hundreds of Market Basket employees loyal to Demoulas lined the street leading to the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, where a directors meeting was taking place.
The two sides of the chain's founding family have battled in court for decades. Arthur T. Demoulas survived the directors meeting a year ago when the board chose to take no action after a 13-hour meeting. But he was removed from the job last month, along with two other longtime executives.
Seven other executives then resigned in protest. In the weeks since, employees at the main Tewksbury office and at stores have been vocal in demanding Demoulas' return.
The showdown between employees, the board, and the new management it appointed, has escalated in the past week.
On Wednesday, an unsigned letter from employees to the new CEOs saying they "demand" the return of Demoulas "with full authority, non-negotiable."
"We will not work for anyone but ATD," the employees wrote.
In a response Thursday, Gooch and Thornton, who were appointed to replace Demoulas last month, said they've offered to have two employees meet with the board of directors Monday to talk about their demands.
While the demand has been unanimous from employees, Gooch and Thornton told workers in the letter, it is an individual decision "whether you wish to continue to work at Market Basket."
"Any action is an individual choice and we hope that your top priority continues to be taking care of the Market Basket customer," they said.
"Today could be the climax of the battle between employees and the new management. Whether workers will be able to get their old boss back isn't clear, said Jon Springer, an associate editor with Supermarket News who has been following the company closely.
"It's only effective if everyone is in on it," Springer said of the walk-out. "It's not clear to me that the demands they're making are likely to pass."
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