Market Basket corporate employees threaten walkout
One year ago today, Market Basket employees gathered at the company’s Massachusetts headquarters. Then-CEO Arthur T. Demoulas’s position was in jeopardy, and they wanted to show their support.
Today, a group of employees from the grocery chain’s headquarters in Tewksbury, Mass., have again rallied to demonstrate their support for the guy they call “Artie T.,” the guy who knows their names and their families – by going on strike.
It’s unclear what effect the walkout could have on shoppers and the chain’s 25,000 employees at 71 stores across New England, including two in Concord.
Demoulas was ousted last month when Arthur S. Demoulas secured backing from a majority of board members after decades of feuds between the two. Two other senior executives were fired and seven more resigned.
About 75 people, mostly managers and directors, pledged to walk away from the corporate offices if Arthur T. Demoulas wasn’t reinstated yesterday, according to one employee.
Instead, the new co-CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, released a letter announcing board meetings Monday and again Friday.
The letter also warned employees: “If you choose to abandon your job or refuse to perform your job requirements, you will leave us no choice but to permanently replace you.”
Thornton and Gooch held a meeting with headquarters staff that ended with “associates walking away . . . more irate and firm in their resolve than ever,” according to a blog post on WeAreMarketBasket.com.
“Our associates at HQ will not be going to work. They will be backing up their words with actions and will be standing up for something they care so much for,” the post read.
If distribution stops, the stores could run out of perishable goods within a few days, industry experts said.
Jon Springer, retail editor for Supermarket News, has been writing about the Market Basket saga – accusations, shifting allegiances, fisticuffs in court – for about 10 years. The public acrimony is unprecedented, as is the employees’ threat of a walkout, he said.
“The idea of a company revolting because the CEO got fired, I’ve never seen that before. . . . There have been supermarket strikes before. The last major supermarket strike happened 10 years ago in southern California. Those stores were staffed with replacement workers and most of them stayed open. There was a little disruption, but they were able to operate the stores while that happened,” Springer said.
“In this case, this is kind of like a sudden strike, they announced it (Wednesday), and I have my doubts as to the completeness of the strike because there’s no union here. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but if the warehouses were completely shut down, that would probably be apparent to shoppers fairly soon.”
It’s especially rare, said market analyst David Livingston, for managers to be the ones spearheading a walkout.
“When there are labor walkouts, management has been trained to take over the jobs. There’s nobody cross-trained at the labor level to take over for management. It’s a very unique situation.”
But while some jobs are essential to keep the company open for business, others, such as accounting or payroll, wouldn’t affect operations, he said.
Tom Trainor, a Market Basket employee with 10 years’ experience at headquarters, said yesterday he planned to join the walkout, and he predicted customers would notice this effort. All of the buyers at headquarters are taking part, he said, which means there won’t be any merchandise to restock shelves.
“For perishables, it could be days. Grocery items could last longer, but the faster-moving items will wipe out quickly,” he said.
“Maybe we’re being naive, but that may work for us. We’re so naive we think we might actually win it. We can’t just sit and let this happen. If we do this, we can walk out with our head held high knowing we did the best we could,” he added.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)