Ray Duckler: Labor of love as Market Basket employees celebrate holiday
Kyle Tiddes was a senior at Pembroke Academy when he joined Market Basket 10 years ago. During an interview Thursday at the Storrs Street store, he said, “This absolutely saved the business and I think we’re going to come back much stronger.”
"It's a great day. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best day in the history of the company," said Brian Boucher, Market Basket store director at the Storr Street location in Concord. Boucher, who has been with the company for 37 years, said that they had to call employees at 7 a.m. yesterday to work that same day, but that people were happy to get that call. "(We) didn't hear too many gripes," he said. "We do what we gotta do to get the job done. . . . Today's a new day. We'll go on from here."
(SUSAN DOUCET Monitor staff)
Today is Labor Day, celebrated the first Monday each September.
And thanks to a New England-based grocery store chain, the last Wednesday each August should also be declared Labor Day, a different one of sorts.
At least around here.
This one, connected to the Market Basket settlement five days ago, has its roots in loyalty and appreciation for the chance to work, to provide for your family, to live with pride and independence.
Those are components the official Labor Day is supposed to represent. But the one we’ve created here – from locations in Concord, Warner and Tilton to sites throughout New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts – is more genuine and true to its core values.
“Market Basket has become something so much bigger for us,” said Jason Desjardins, the front-end manager at the Storrs Street branch in Concord. “It’s for people who work for a living, the middle class, a hard day’s work. It feels like something we won, and it will forever stick in my mind as an accomplishment.”
Desjardins, Robin Jarvis, the assistant manager at the Storrs Market Basket, and their boss, Brian Boucher, reflected the environment created by the big boss, Arthur T. Demoulas, who closed a $1.5 billion deal last week to buy 50.5 percent of the company.
While most corporations are, well, corporate, shooing the media away or demanding that you jump through hoops to secure a comment, Boucher rolled out the red carpet for me.
“Come on down,” he said on the phone.
The story has gotten big headlines the past six weeks, as employees backed Arthur T. in his fight against his cousin, former majority owner Arthur S. Demoulas.
S. fired T., and that got everyone fired up.
People like Jarvis and Desjardins, full-time employees, kept working, but when they were off the clock they joined part-timers who had been laid off or had hours cut. Loyal customers even demanded that Arthur T. be reinstated.
He’s the boss, everyone said, who had provided a fair wage, good benefits and a human touch, sometimes calling those who stocked shelves to find out about a sick loved one.
So they marched in front of the 71 stores in the three-state region, holding signs, chanting slogans, putting their own careers on the line.
Suddenly, Arthur T. was a gentler version of Hoffa. He was the head of a labor movement with a dues-paying process that had nothing to do with money.
It had to do with paying dues.
So says Desjardins, who started working at Market Basket as a sophomore at Concord High and remains there, 22 years later. And so says Jarvis, who’s 52 and who’s also had just one job, for 36 years.
“I came here part-time and planned to go to college,” said Jarvis, who lives in Gilmanton Iron Works. “But I had an issue with college money, so I stayed and they took me on full-time right away and I moved up the ladder. The managers and assistant managers in the chain all started as baggers.”
How loyal are these people, these managers and cashiers and everyone in between? So loyal that when labor union representatives attended demonstrations at Market Basket headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., and tried to organize Arthur T.’s people, some workers chuckled.
“They had a regular van that went by with the union emblem on the side,” Jarvis said. “It made us laugh. We already have everything we want. And if I need time off, they give me time off.”
Kyle Tiddes joined the Market Basket team as a senior at Pembroke Academy 10 years ago. He works behind the deli at Storrs Street. He stood near the empty lobster tanks the day after the dispute had been solved and speculated on what might have happened if Arthur S. had maintained control.
“It being sold was not out of the question,” Tiddes said. “Or maybe they wouldn’t have kept the prices that made Market Basket what it is. The atmosphere and everything that made Market Basket Market Basket would have changed. Maybe slowly, but it would have, so this absolutely saved the business and I think we’re going to come back much stronger.”
Candis McRae, a senior at Concord High, wondered if she’d be back at all. Unlike full-timers, the bagger and cashier saw her part-time hours drop to four a week, then to none.
She began looking for another part-time job, but says, “I knew if it turned out well like it did, I was going to come back here. I wouldn’t want another job.
“I love it here,” McRae continued. “Even though it took this kind of experience to realize what was at stake, I saw how many people who have been here their wholes lives and love it and were willing to put their jobs on the line to protect this guy.”
The effort paid off, with an agreement on Aug. 27, 2014, the final Wednesday in August.
The start of another sort of Labor Day.
“Family in this company,” Desjardins said, “is stronger than any labor union out there.”