Thousands rally in Mass. for return of ousted Market Basket CEO

TEWKSBURY, Mass., July 25 Fri Jul 25, 2014 1:15pm EDT

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TEWKSBURY, Mass., July 25 (Reuters) - Thousands of people joined a rally on Friday calling for family-owned New England supermarket chain Market Basket to reinstate its former chief executive.

Arthur T. Demoulas was fired by the company board of directors in June after a long-running power struggle with his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas.

His ouster, along with top members of his executive team, triggered a slow-burn revolt by employees who hailed his worker-friendly policies, leading to store boycotts and work slowdowns that have put the company's operations in disarray.

"Our only demand is the return of Arthur T. and the leaders who were wrongfully terminated," Michael Maguire, director of produce for Market Basket, said at the rally, which responded in a torrent of cheers.

People at the rally held placards reading "Down with greed, support Arthur T." and "Arthur T. is our CEO" as a small propeller plane flew overhead dragging a banner that read "Artie T. Save M.B - Buy Them Out!"

Arthur T. on Thursday said his side of the family had offered to purchase full ownership of the company to resolve the crisis but did not detail the offer. Members of the board of directors, who met Friday morning, were not immediately reachable for comment.

Market Basket, based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, is one of New England's leading privately held supermarkets with some $3.55 billion in revenue from its more than 70 stores. It competes with regional chains like Hannaford Brothers, Shaw's, and Stop & Shop.

After Arthur T.'s firing, former Radio Shack executive James Gooch and ex-Albertsons executive Felicia Thornton became co-CEOs of Market Basket. The new management has said it plans no immediate changes to the company's worker policies.

The family feud began decades ago over allegations by Arthur S.' side of the family that Arthur T.'s father had stolen ownership shares by setting up shell companies. A judge sided with Arthur S.'s family in 1994, giving it a 51 percent share.

Despite family tensions, Arthur T. became head of the company in 2008. The board shifted in Arthur S.'s favor in 2013, however, after two members were replaced.

"He treated us like a family," said Xavier Taylor, 26, who works at the Tewksbury Market Basket. "He always said this is a family business first, and a food business second. I am forever grateful to him." (Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Bill Trott)

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