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Family feud sparks revolt at grocery store chain

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Shoppers encounter empty shelves as they shop Thursday, July 24, 2014 at the Market Basket supermarket in Haverhill, Mass. A decades-long family feud, which brought about the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO of the privately held company, led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the grocery chain’s stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 100 Massachusetts legislators and mayors, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees. (AP Photo)

Shoppers encounter empty shelves as they shop Thursday, July 24, 2014 at the Market Basket supermarket in Haverhill, Mass. A decades-long family feud, which brought about the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO of the privately held company, led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the grocery chain’s stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 100 Massachusetts legislators and mayors, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees. (AP Photo)

Market Basket employees Rees Gemmell, far right, and colleagues acknowledge passing supporters as they picket in front of the supermarket Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Haverhill, Mass. A decades-long family feud, which brought about the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO of the privately held company, led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the grocery chain’s stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 100 Massachusetts legislators and mayors, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees. (AP Photo)

Cashiers and baggers stand idle Thursday July 24, 2014 at a Market Basket supermarket in Concord, N.H. A decades-long family feud, which brought about the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO of the privately held company, led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the grocery chain’s stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 100 Massachusetts legislators and mayors, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees. (AP Photo)

Maria Arvarado, of Haverhill, Mass. finds empty produce bins as she shops Thursday, July 24, 2014 at Market Basket supermarket in Haverhill, Mass. A decades-long family feud, which brought about the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO of the privately held company, led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the grocery chain’s stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 100 Massachusetts legislators and mayors, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees. (AP Photo)

FILE – In this July 22, 2014 file photo ,demonstrators display placards outside a Market Basket supermarket in Chelsea, Mass. A decades-long family feud, which brought about the ouster of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO of the privately held company, led to a worker revolt, customer boycotts and empty shelves in the grocery chain’s stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 100 Massachusetts legislators and mayors, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees. (AP Photo/File)

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WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. (AP) — It’s been called a David vs. Goliath story, a “Tale of Two Arthurs” and even the “ultimate Greek tragedy,” but the characters in this drama are not Biblical or literary figures. They’re grocery store owners.

A workers’ revolt at the Market Basket supermarket chain has led to empty store shelves, angry customers and support for a boycott from more than 100 state legislators and mayors.

Industry analysts say worker revolts at non-union companies are rare, but what’s happening at Market Basket is particularly unusual because the workers are not asking for higher pay or better benefits. They are demanding the reinstatement of beloved former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who workers credit with keeping prices low, treating employees well and guiding the company’s success.

The New England grocery store chain is embroiled in a family feud featuring two cousins who have been at odds for decades.

While earlier squabbles between Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas were fought in courtrooms, this dispute has spilled into Market Basket stores.

For the past week, warehouse workers have refused to make deliveries to Market Basket’s stores, leaving fruit, vegetable, seafood and meat shelves empty. Workers have held huge protest rallies and organized boycott petitions through social media, attracting thousands of supporters.

Customers are defecting to other grocery stores. In some cases, customers have taped receipts from competitors to Market Basket windows.

“We are going to go somewhere else from now on,” said Soraya DeBarros, as she walked through a depleted produce department at the Market Basket in West Bridgewater this week. “I’m sad about it because of course I want to keep the low prices, but I want to support the workers.”

Despite threats by new management to fire any workers who fail to perform their duties, some 300 warehouse workers and 68 drivers have refused to make deliveries. So far, eight supervisors have been fired. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan have publicly supported the employees.

“If you had told me that workers at a grocery store would walk out to save the job of a CEO, I would say that’s incredible. There is usually such a gulf between the worker and the CEO,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester.

Market Basket stores have long been a fixture in Massachusetts. The late Arthur Demoulas — grandfather of Arthur S. and Arthur T. and a Greek immigrant — opened the first store in Lowell nearly a century ago. Gradually, Market Basket became a regional powerhouse, with 25,000 employees and 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The feud dates back to the 1970s, but the most recent round of infighting began last year when

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