The ongoing situation at Market Basket with regard to the actions of employees is historic. The fact that non-unionized employees are willing to risk their jobs not simply for working conditions but to support their ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas is unprecedented in a large company.
Esquire Magazine recently described the situation unfolding at Market Basket the last stand of the middle class ( http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/market-basket-fight ) and like everyone else I am waiting to see how the case resolves.
One thing that has struck me about the situation is the sheer number of every day citizens that have joined the fight. We often lament the lack of involvement of citizens in their government, the general cynical view many take toward politics, their feeling that even if they do get involved it won’t make a difference.
But something different, something amazing is happening with Market Basket. Everyday citizens and customers do feel they can make a difference. They are boycotting the store. They are raising money to take out newspaper ads in support of the store’s employees. They are united toward a common goal. One customer has taken to Twitter with his pledge to spend $100 at another grocery store for every Market Basket employee fired by the new Co-CEO’s. ( http://www.boston.com/business/news/2014/07/30/market-basket-customer-makes-per-worker-pledge/DryIRczjGZLMCNgITiNVyM/story.html ). His mantra is people over profits and it is resonating with many.
Others took part in customer led protests in front of Market Basket stores around the region last weekend. I asked several of these local supporters what it was about this situation, as opposed to others, that motivated them to get involved, and the answer was surprisingly simple. It affected them on a personal level.
"I could think of a million other things to do on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, but instead, I joined several other local residents holding signs standing out in front of our local Market Basket,” Felicia Donovan, an Exeter author told me. “This protest wasn't about political actions, women's rights or support of LGBT issues. This was about Arthur, the 94-year old bagger who has been working at the Stratham store for over twenty years. This was about Larry at the checkout who engages everyone in conversation. This was about Christian, the young man who always has a smile on his face and offers to help and Dean, the assistant manager, who greets customers personally at the door and knows them by name.”
Carol Gulla, a Stratham resident, told me that the business model Arthur T. Demoulas employed for Market Basket worked. She pointed to the way that employees from management to baggers were treated as valuable assets. The store is an old-school model where boards of directors, shareholders, employees and customers are all seen as having an equal stake in a company’s success.
“And, I guess, that I, as a consumer, said enough,” Gulla said. “I am tired of feeling that I am powerless against “big money.” The actions taken by the Market Basket employees were a gift to us, their customers. They gave us the chance to take a stand and say we are not going to take it. And, by choosing to boycott the stores, we have been given the opportunity to show a corporation that without us they have nothing.”
For Gabrielle Grossman, a mother and loyal Market Basket shopper, the issue comes down to the employees at her local store and their place in her community.
“I just love my family at Market Basket,” Grossman said. “It is a beautiful community where people make an honest and good living. We have pride in that community and it is a great, universal lesson in standing up for the good. A unified voice is powerful.”
Donovan was buoyed by the response she got from those passing by the customer protest last week.
“If I had any doubt that it was the right thing to do, it was quickly washed in the constant honking of horns, thumbs ups and waves from just about everyone who passed by,” Donovan said. “I stood for me, but I stood for the Market Basket Customer community and the community spoke.”
And so as we wait for news on whether the powers that be will finalize a sale to Arthur T. Demoulas, I’m seeing another lesson to take away from this situation. It’s a lesson about what can inspire record numbers of citizens to become involved and engaged in the process.