BIDDEFORD — The shelves are nearly bare at the Market Basket grocery store as a result of a strike that has pitted employees against the company’s board of directors. August will mark the one-year anniversary for the Biddeford store, which is Maine’s first, but events at the corporate level could threaten that store and 71 others in the family-owned supermarket chain.

As a result of last month’s ouster of the company’s long-time president, Arthur T. Demoulas, employees in the corporate office in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, and at the company’s two warehouses and company drivers have all walked off the job.

Since then, other long-time employees have also been fired.

The walkout took place after an ultimatum by employees to reinstate Demoulas as CEO by Thursday afternoon went unanswered.

The Biddeford Assistant Store Manager Keith McGee said the last Market Basket truck to deliver to the store was Thursday. Although all the stores are still open during normal business hours and trucks from other vendors are delivering, many of the shelves are empty.

With no new deliveries from the Market Basket warehouse, the produce department in Biddeford is almost non-existent, there is almost no chicken left, supplies of meat and seafood are getting low, and all of the dairy in the store is on the shelves, said McGee.

If the walkout continues, and no new deliveries arrive, “I don’t know what will happen,” he said.

Despite the uncertainties, McGee and nearly all 25,000 Market Basket employees are supporting the walkout and support the reinstatement of Demoulas.

In Biddeford and many of the other stores, all of which are located in New England, posters are displayed with Demoulas’ picture in support of him. Also, the Biddeford store has other posters of a Sunday ad in the Lowell Sun, where employees explain why they support him.

“Usually people are trying get rid of their CEO,” he said. “We’re trying to get him back.”

Another store employee, Mike Menard, said he wants Demoulas back at the helm because “he treats you like you’re family.”

When the former president would visit stores, said Menard, he would go up to employees and ask them how they were and how their families were doing.

“He’s a normal guy. He has an open-door policy,” said Menard.

This morning, a large rally by employees took place at the Tewksbury store, and organizers said more rallies are planned.

“We can shut this company down, and that is the only way we’re going to gain the attention of the board of directors,” said grocery supervisor Tom Trainor, one of about a dozen speakers at the rally.

“There is one way to make a greedy person listen ”“ in his wallet,” he said.

Many warehouse workers took sick days or vacation time Friday, according to the Associated Press. Some other employees attended the rally in their work attire, and said they planned to go back to work afterward.

The new CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, had said in a letter to workers Thursday that those who don’t do their jobs could be fired.

Many of the customers in Biddeford said they also support the employees and Demoulas.

“This was a huge thing to come to Maine,” said Debbie Anischik of Old Orchard Beach about the opening of the Biddeford Market Basket. “People I knew were waiting for us to get this store.”

The current events “are very disappointing,” she said.

Alphie Pelletier of Wells said he used to shop at the first store in Lowell, Massachusetts, which was founded by Demoulas’ grandparents in 1916.

“It boggles your mind when you see how they started to where they are today,” he said. “There must have been a really good CEO. I don’t know why this board” wants to get rid of him.

“We support what (the employees) are doing,” said Pelletier’s wife, Louise.

Demoulas was almost fired last year, but managed to retain control. At that time, a petition signed by more than 43,000 people in his support was sent to the board of directors.

This year, Arthur T. Demoulas’ cousin and rival, Arthur S. Demoulas, gained control of the board and led the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas. The board has stated publicly that Arthur T. Demoulas spent money recklessly and his leadership style was dictatorial.

But workers, who not only like Arthur T. Demoulas personally, state in their Lowell Sun advertisement that they fear new management will change the corporate culture, threaten the employee profit-sharing plan, and endanger the current business model of providing quality products at affordable prices.

The new executives said the company’s direction hasn’t changed.

“We want to reinforce our commitment to Market Basket customers, associates, benefit plans, bonus programs, profit sharing and new stores,” they said Thursday.

An emergency board telephone conference was also called for this morning, and a meeting scheduled for July 25 that will include employee representatives.

The ultimate outcome, however, is unclear.

Although he lacks support on the board, Arthur T. Demoulas has broad support from his employees and the public. Even state lawmakers in Massachusetts, where the company headquarters are located, are getting into the act. On Saturday, 17 elected officials had signed a petition saying they stand with the employees who support Demoulas and called for an immediate boycott of the stores.

Battle for leadership of the grocery chain is nothing new within the Demoulas family.

In the 1990s, there were protracted legal battles between differing sides of the family over control of the company.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story. Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]



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