‘Little people’ win a big labor showdown

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
When’s the last time labor won a showdown with deep-pocketed corporate bosses?

Last night.

The long Market Basket grocery store dispute in Massachusetts has ended after employees got their way. The fired CEO, for whom they were protesting because he treated them well, is buying out his warring cousins’.

The significance of the settlement cannot be overstated, as this Boston Globe story this morning reveals. It came because little people — customers — stopped shopping at Marketbasket and sacrificed with higher grocery bills for a cause that some labor experts said they couldn’t win.

The improbable success of their grassroots campaign, which included walk-outs, rallies, and more than a few online manifestos, stunned longtime observers of the grocery industry, and captured the imagination and attention of a region.

“To have an internal uprising of just about everyone, without a union, is very unusual in American industry,” said David Lewin, professor of management at the University of California Los Angeles. “And it’s even more unusual for workers to say, ‘We want this guy to come back’ — and to have him actually come back.”

Under the terms of the deal, announced around 11 p.m., Arthur T. Demoulas and his siblings will buy the 50.5 percent of the company owned by their cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and other relatives on his side of the family.

The long-promised pact between the two bitter, entrenched factions of the Demoulas clan took weeks to craft, an agonizing delay that strained the patience of protesting workers and boycotting shoppers alike.

But even as thousands of employees lost their hours and paychecks, a cadre of middle managers was fired, and the grocery bills of boycotting customers rose, most refused to abandon their cause. News of their vindication arrived in breathless phone calls and euphoric messages posted on social media sites, where the protest movement blossomed. Hundreds of triumphant posts bubbled up on Facebook and Twitter as various media outlets reported the news.

The employees are doing their victory lap on the protest’s Facebook page and trying to rally people to return immediately to the stores, even though the shelves are empty.


What’s the lesson for business? Globe columnist Shirley Leung writes today that people followed the story because the employees “gave voice to the voiceless masses who just wanted to hold on to decent wages for a decent day’s work at a time when fat cats get $50 million paychecks for showing up, and the gap between the rich and the poor is as gaping as ever.”

At a rally this morning, Arthur T. Demoulas, the ousted and now restored CEO, told the workers, “we are all equal.”

“It is a person’s moral obligation…to protect the culture which provides an honorable and dignified place to work,” he said.