by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
September 4, 2014
HOW MARKET BASKET, WORKERS AND SHOPPERS F0UGHT GREED - AND WON1
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Solidarity is everything.
If you want to create change, bringing people together and giving them a reason to stay together is critical.
That's the lesson that should be learned from the six-week Market Basket standoff in New England.
Market Basket is a small, privately-owned supermarket chain owned by the Demoulas family. Founded by Greek immigrant couple Arthur and Efrasine Demoulas nearly a century ago in Lowell, Mass., it now owns 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, and employs 25,000 people.
Unlike many supermarket chains around the U.S., Market Basket pays its workers well and shared the profits with them. As a result, instead of constant turnover, employees have a chance to earn a decent living and move up in the ranks. Yet the prices for groceries are consistently lower than their competitors'.
That is due to the stewardship of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who believes in the idea that if you treat your workers well, they will be more productive, and more loyal.
In the view of his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, Arthur T.'s pay and benefits, the profit-sharing, and the generous pensions are a drain on the bottom line. That's why Arthur S. fought so bitterly with his cousin for years, and wanted him gone so they could cut costs and increase profits for their side of the family.
In late June, Arthur T. was fired by the Market Basket board. But after he was ousted as CEO, workers responded with protests and walkouts. Customers responded by boycotting the store. And the stores were soon empty of workers, shoppers, and merchandise.
After Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan stepped in to work out a settlement, Arthur T. Demoulas came up with about $1.6 billion to buy out his cousin and his side of the family, hoping to end the dispute. Unfortunately, Arthur T. had to borrow much of it, including $500 million from the Blackstone Group private-equity firm.
The standoff captured attention because it wasn't your typical dispute.
Instead of striking against their boss, most workers and managers went on strike to retain him.
Vendors refused to make food deliveries.
Customers didn't whine about being inconvenienced, but stood by the workers who walked out and flocked to the stores when Arthur T. was restored as CEO.
And all of this happened without union intervention. When the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers offered to represent Market Basket workers, they were rebuffed.
That's why this drama is unprecedented in American labor history. Workers took a stand against what they saw as Arthur S. and his supporters' desire to put profits ahead of people, got broad public support for what they did, and ultimately won.
It was a victory that could be replicated elsewhere, provided the conditions are right for a united front against corporate greed. And I believe they are.
Today, more than one-third of U.S. jobs are part-time. Unions have shriveled into irrelevance as the hard-won victories of organized labor are being destroyed by corporate predators and the politicians they own.
And people are made to feel that they have no voice and no say in their workplaces or the halls of government - powerless.
But the resolution of the Demoulas standoff shows that people have power when they stand together.
Imagine what will happen to McDonald's and Walmart when workers walk out - and consumers stand by the strikers and refuse to eat or shop there - until workers are paid a living wage and treated with respect and dignity.
Additionally, what if consumers went a step further and refused to spend their money at any store or restaurant that fails to treat its workers fairly?
You would see a much different retail landscape in the United States. You would once again see an economy where prosperity is widely shared and the playing field is level for workers.
But it can only happen when people stand together in solidarity.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.