By Brian Messenger
---- — A boardroom battle for control of the Market Basket grocery store chain has local employees rallying behind current company CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, whose job appears to be in jeopardy.
The controversy is expected to come to a head Thursday morning when the board of directors of Demoulas Supermarkets, Inc., will meet and possibly replace Demoulas with his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.
For years, the Demoulas family has wrangled over of what has grown into a 71-store grocery chain, which has roots in Lowell but has expanded across Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Arthur T. Demoulas has served as CEO since 2008. Arthur S. Demoulas and other members on his side of the family allege Arthur T. Demoulas has mismanaged the company and ignored instructions from the board, according to various reports.
But yesterday, employees outside Market Basket locations in Haverhill and Londonderry asked customers to sign a petition in support of Arthur T. Demoulas. A similar “Save Market Basket” petition boasts over 35,000 online signatures.
“Arthur T. Demoulas has had my back for 36 years,” said Mark Lemieux, store manager at the Londonderry Market Basket. “And now he needs me. He needs us.”
Lemieux, 52, began working at the grocery chain in 1977 as a bagger. Lemieux said replacing Arthur T. Demoulas will harm the culture of the company, which he said is growing and is bolstered by thousands of motivated employees.
“All he thinks about, all he cares about are his employees and his customers,” said Lemieux. “I’m not looking forward to a change.”
A call yesterday to Arthur S. Demoulas’ Boston-based lawyer was not returned.
Justine Griffin, a spokesman for Arthur T. Demoulas, wrote in a statement yesterday that Market Basket has remained a regional leader in a competitive industry, in part, by putting its customers and employees first.
“We expect that members of the board, current and newly elected, will fulfill their fiduciary duty and not allow the demand of certain shareholders for millions of dollars in distributions to come before the interests of the company’s employees, its customers and the communities we serve,” wrote Griffin.
Employees at the Central Plaza Market Basket in Haverhill yesterday stood in front of posters claiming Arthur T. Demoulas’ ouster will lead to higher food prices and fewer job opportunities.
Another long-tenured employee, meat manager Steve Burke, 60, said Arthur T. Demoulas has “kept his nose to the grindstone” even after becoming a successful businessman.
“The man has made a lot of money,” said Burke, a Market Basket employee for 41 years. “But he’s done a lot for the people along the way.”
Kristi Cunningham, a Haverhill resident and mother of three, was eager to sign the petition yesterday.
“I don’t want them to raise prices,” said Cunningham. “I pay enough to feed my family.”