"A Win for the Virtues of Loyalty and Fairness"
"Strikes don't strike me" was a favorite saying of Catholic Worker cofounder Peter Maurin; but even Maurin might have been pleased with the eight week strike by Market Basket workers and managers that ended yesterday with tears of joy shed at most of the supermarket chain's 71 stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
It's not just the fact that thousands of Market Basket's nonunionized workers happily went back to work after winning on their one and only demand. Or that the strike was led by a nine member council of senior store managers who'd all worked for the company for decades. Or that the workers were supported by a boycott semi-spontaneously organized and adhered to by hundreds of thousands of Market Basket's loyal customers.
No, what might have pleased Maurin was the workers' solitary demand: the rehiring of fired long-time CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. When's the last time workers---without the (admittedly meager under current US law) protection of a union contract---went on strike for their boss?
"Artie T.", as Demoulas is known (so as to avoid confusion with his cousin "Artie S.") had led Market Basket through a period of growth and profitability by paying workers well, providing excellent customer service, keeping prices low (underpricing Walmart, among others) and stocking hard-to-find food items prized by the company's many immigrant customers.
For nearly 25 years, the two branches of the Demoulas family have fought bitterly for control over the company their grandparents started in Lowell, Massachusetts back in 1916. The fight reached a peak on June 23 when the Artie S. board faction fired Artie T. after a long string of disagreements over how to run the company.
As the US approaches another Labor Day in which the prospects for American workers continue to dim as corporations acquire seemingly ever greater powers, the Market Basket saga is a genuine "feel-good" story that has the local area almost giddy. (How giddy? Yesterday, Boston-area pop music stations broke into their regular programming to offer live coverage of Artie T's first public statement since regaining control of the company.)
MIT business professor Thomas Kochan has followed the dispute closely and offers one of the first---and best---of what will be many attempts to read "the signs of the times" and discern what, if anything, the Market Basket dispute---and its resolution---have to offer for the rest of the American economy:
Like everyone else, I am relieved that Market Basket share owners reached a deal allowing Arthur T. Demoulas to lead employees back to work and customers back to their stores. This is a win for all the parties with a direct stake in this company, and for those around the country who watched this saga unfold. Arthur T. got it exactly right in his moving speech to employees this morning when he said this is a win for the virtues of loyalty and fairness that carried employees and customers through this ordeal.
Kochan goes on to thank pretty much everyone involved in the dispute---workers, customers, the media for its coverage, community leaders (including Govs. Patrick and Hassan who helped mediate the settlement, and area religious leaders*) who got involved, and members of the Demoulas family themselves.
It is perhaps unrealistic to expect that the Market Basket settlement will serve as a model for improved worker-management relations in the US. But for many around here, it is a bit of light shining in the darkness. That alone makes it worth celebrating.
Happy Labor Day.
*Full disclosure: The organization I work for played a role in generating the statement and press conference from area religious leaders to which Kochan refers.
About the Author
Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons.