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The Boston Globe

Business

Thousands gather at Market Basket rally

TEWKSBURY — Thousands of protesters packed another rally at a Market Basket here to show their support — again — for ousted president Arthur T. Demoulas as negotiations over control of the family-owned supermarket chain appeared no closer to a deal.

Organizers estimated the rally attracted about 10,000 people, more than the 6,000 to 7,000 who attended the previous rally on July 25, but less than the 15,000 that organizers had predicted.

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The standoff between Market Basket employees and the company has stretched for nearly three weeks.

In the hot, humid weather that had people stripping off sticky layers ofclothing, protest leaders urged the employees to remain strong and resolute in their efforts to restore Demoulas to the leadership of the company.

Steve Paulenka, who was recently fired after 40 years at the company, blamed the impasse on Arthur S. Demoulas, and Felicia Thornton and James Gooch, the co-chief executives selected to replace Arthur T. The company’s board of directors, which made the moves, is controlled by Arthur S. and his side of the family.

“It’s the co-CEOs fault,” Paulenka told the crowd. “It’s Arthur S. Demoulas’s fault. They could have ended this.”

A spokesman for Market Basket’s management said allegations that the company’s chief executives were responsible for its troubles were baseless.

Employees have placed themselves in the middle of a decadeslong battle between two sides of the Demoulas family over control of the company, valued at up to $3.5 billion.

As the fight drags on, many analysts say it could threaten the future of the company, its 71 stores, and approximately 25,000 employees.

Since delivery drivers and warehouse workers walked off their jobs on July 18, deliveries to stores have been sporadic, and customer traffic has dropped precipitously, costing the chain millions of dollars.

“I didn’t think it would go on this long,” said Katrina Kennedy, a bakery worker at a Market Basket in Haverhill who attended the rally. But, she said defiantly of the company’s new management, “They didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. We don’t back down.”

About two weeks ago, Arthur T. offered to buy out the family of Arthur S., and the two sides have been locked in negotiations, although few details have emerged. In statements, the board said it is considering Arthur T.’s offer along with others.

There were no signs Tuesday that negotiations were making progress.

Some Market Basket employees said the standoff is squeezing them financially.

Bob Smart, 48, a warehouse worker from Lowell, hasn’t been paid since he joined other warehouse workers who walked off the job.

He said he is unable to pay bills and recently received a note that his cable television service would be cut off.

But Smart said he’d sooner end up on the street than go back to work before Arthur T. was reinstated.

“I’ll go homeless,” he said. “I don’t care. But with the [Market Basket] family we have, nobody will go homeless.”

Jen Canning of Billerica, a seafood and deli associate at Market Basket, said her hours have been cut as a result of fewer customers and less work. “Just a little bit of a cut makes a big difference,” she said.

The rally was the fourth by Market Basket workers. Working the rally crowd were vendors selling T-shirts with such messages as “Market Basket Strong” and “We Believe in ATD” — Arthur T. Demoulas.

Smaller groups of workers have also held daily protests at stores and company headquarters.

On Monday, about 60 demonstrated at a job fair aimed at finding replacements for protesting managers and other employees. Few applicants showed up.

On Monday, some employees expressed concern about how long the protests can continue.

“I’m not hurting yet,” said Gary Liles, a warehouse employee from Salem, N.H., at the job fair protest. “I could go for another week, and I’m hoping it’s done this week.”

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
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