BOSTON (AP) — As Arthur T. Demoulas made a triumphant return Thursday to lead the Market Basket supermarket chain, it was the words of his employees that summed up their fierce loyalty to him that led to a remarkable workers' revolt that nearly crippled the New England chain but eventually put him back on top.
"We did it for you!" one employee yelled back at Demoulas as he addressed a crowd of supporters outside the company's headquarters. "We love you!" shouted another.
It was a moment few thought would happen six weeks ago, when employees walked off their jobs after Demoulas was fired. Not only did the workers stick together, but customers soon followed by boycotting the stores in solidarity.
Late Wednesday, after weeks of pressure, the company announced that an agreement had been reached for Demoulas to pay $1.5 billion for the 50.5 percent of the company owned by his cousin and rival, Arthur S. Demoulas, and other family members.
Workers and customers celebrated Thursday at a rally outside the chain's Tewksbury headquarters, where Arthur T. Demoulas, speaking from the back of a truck, told them, "I am in awe of what you have all accomplished."
Demoulas, 59, was fired in June by a board controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas. To protest, hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers refused to deliver fresh produce to the chain's 71 stores, leaving shelves depleted.
Customers soon began shopping elsewhere, some because they could not find fresh food at Market Basket, but others stayed away in a concerted show of support for the workers and Arthur T. Demoulas. The usually crowded stores turned into ghost towns, with only a trickle of customers.
Employees said it was their allegiance to Demoulas that kept them united. Demoulas is beloved by the workers not only for offering generous benefits — including a profit-sharing plan — but also for stopping to talk to workers, remembering birthdays and attending funerals of employees' relatives.
"He'll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he's genuinely concerned about them," said Joe Schmidt, a store operations supervisor. "He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just important as the supervisors and the store management team."
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