TEWKSBURY -- Putting their jobs on line, more than 2,000 Market Basket employees, joined by family members, friends and customers, held a rally Friday on the grounds of the 71-store chain's Tewksbury headquarters, demanding the return of their beloved, ousted chief executive Arthur T. Demoulas.
About two dozen speakers climbed a ladder to a makeshift podium to address the gathering over a public address system, which the event's master of ceremonies, 40-year employee Steve Paulenka, the chain's facilities and operations supervisor, said was purchased the day before for $1,200.
The front of the podium was adorned by a color portrait Arthur T. Demoulas, with the caption, "I believe."
Numerous store managers and employees attending the rally, including many accompanied by children, wore their familiar work attire of white shirts and ties, and navy blue Market Basket polo shirts, and name tags declaring their number of years employed.
Handmade signs were everywhere, all either giving testimony to the love and loyalty toward the fired Arthur T. Demoulas, and dislike for the new co-CEOs, recently hired by the board of directors, Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton.
Paulenka was among several employees of Market Basket's corporate building on the site who left their offices to join the rally, following through on an ultimatum and warning they put in writing to Gooch and Thornton on Wednesday, in a letter that demanded Demoulas be reinstated. The employees said they wanted an answer by Thursday afternoon or they would conduct a walkout Friday at 9:30 a.m.
In a reply letter from Gooch and Thornton on Thursday, the co-CEOs informed Arthur T.'s supporters that they had forwarded the request for Demoulas' reinstatement to the chain's board of directors, which has the authority to hire him back.
Gooch and Thornton also wrote Thursday that they've offered to have two employees meet with the board of directors Monday to talk about their demands. Meanwhile, they could fire anyone who does not perform their job, they wrote.
"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," wrote Gooch and Thornton. "It is an individual decision "whether you wish to continue to work at Market Basket."
The new CEOs warning letter prompted a backlash from many sign-holding participants and speakers at Friday's rally, who declared that they refused to be "threatened," or "bullied."
On Friday, the loudest cheers and ovation of the three-hour rally was elicited by speaker Gordon Leblanc, a meat supervisor/buyer and 43-year Market Basket employee, who paraphrased Red Sox slugger David Ortiz' famously profane post-Boston Marathon bombing quote, by declaring loudly that, "This is our (expletive deleted) company!"
No red and white Market Basket delivery trucks were seen entering or exiting the 875 East St. site, which also serves as the warehousing and distribution hub of the company.
Friday's shut-down of truck deliveries of produce and other popular grocery items was likely to leave Market Basket's store shelves in Massachusetts and New Hampshire increasingly bare beginning Saturday afternoon, according to several managers at the rally who were quizzed by a Sun reporter about the likely impact on their stores.
About a dozen Tewksbury police officers monitored the crowd and directed traffic. Several officers also informed media members that they were prohibited from parking at the site, and were requested to remain on the perimeter of the property during the rally, per the instructions police received from Market Basket's new management.
Several speakers alluded to the new management's decree that portable toilets, which the rally's organizers had ordered for the event, would not be permitted on the site, citing it as more evidence for their argument that the new management cares not about people, but profits.
The loudest cheers and ovation of the three-hour rally was elicited by speaker Gordon Leblanc, a meat supervisor/buyer and 43-year Market Basket employee, who paraphrased Red Sox slugger David Ortiz' famously profane post-Boston Marathon bombing quote, by declaring loudly that, "This is our (expletive deleted) company!"
For more on this story read Saturday's edition of the Sun, or visit www.lowellsun.com