Monday, September 1, 2014

A Great Labor Day Story

If you live in New England, or were paying attention to supermarket labor news this summer, you already know this story.

Almost a hundred years ago, Greek immigrant Arthur Demoulas founded what would become the grocery chain Market Basket. For the last few decades, the company has been run by two grandsons-- Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas.

The chain had grown to 71 stores with 25,000 employees. But there was a constant struggle between the cousins. Arthur S. pushed hard to get more golden eggs out of the Market Basket goose, but Arthur T., who did the actual managing of the operation, provided holiday bonuses, hefty retirement packages, and a career ladder that reached all the way down to baggers. He was personable and pleasant and well-known to his customers and his workers.

In June, Arthur S. gathered enough board votes to put a stop to all that touchy-feely crap, and Arthur T. was canned. When eight executives in the company tried to protest the ouster, they were canned, too. And as any qualified website headline writer would say, nobody could predict what would happen next.

What happened next was that the workers and customers of Market Basket shut the place down.

The workers walked out. The customers started boycotting. The suppliers stopped supplying. If you walked into a Market basket in July or August, you felt like you'd wandered into an abandoned building or perhaps time-traveled back to the saddest supermarket in Soviet Russia.

And the workers didn't just walk out. They held pep rallies. They walked with signs of their former fired CEO and demanded his return. Arthur S. threatened to fire them all, replace them with scabs, and the workers felt the pressure. Many of them are part-timers who depend on that check, and even those who didn't walk saw their hours cut dramatically as the stores ground to a halt. And yet a scan of news coverage finds no real signs of backlash-- even the workers who didn't walk did not call for the job action to fold.

By the end of August, it was over. Arthur S. and his cohort sold out to Arthur T. who was restored to leadership of the chain. It's a story so special that the link you just read past connects to coverage in the LA Times.

What are the lessons of the Market Basket story?

For folks in the big offices, the lesson is simple-- treat your people well, run your company fairly, and operate moral, ethical and just plain decent human being management, and there is no limit to how hard your workers will work and fight for you.

For workers, the story is a reminder that people do have power and that, pulling together in the name of a decent cause, they can create enormous pressure for management to do the right thing.

Happy Labor Day!


  1. Wonderful story. I hadn't heard about it.

  2. Probably saved the company. How many us companies have seen go this cost-cutting route. In the end they end up as empty husks that aren't even profitable.