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The Market Basket strike lessons

Lessons from the Market Basket Strike

August 28th, 2014

by Walt Kolenda

What feels like a great victory for employees of the Market Basket Supermarket chain was just announced as breaking news.

After a month of protests by workers, couple with a boycott by customers, it appears as if the “Good Guys” get to chalk one up in the win column.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last month, the beloved New England Market Basket chain has spent the last month virtually closed. After warring family factions had a battle that ended with the ouster of CEO Artie T. DeMoulas, the employees went on strike, and customers stopped shopping there. That’s right, employees went on strike to save the job of their CEO!

Breaking news is that a deal has been struck to sell the remaining 49% of the company to Artie T. for 1.5 billion dollars. (Although he was fired he had owned 51% of the company)

It’s widely believed that Artie T. is a great guy. There are many stories about how he is responsible for keeping prices low. He’s admired because it’s believed how he won’t sell out to the “big chains” and there is much employee testimony about how he cares about workers.

A story from one of his workers who had a heart attack and was laid up for a few weeks is worth a mention here. Apparently, although there was no contractual agreement, Market Basket controlled by Artie T. kept sending the employee his weekly paycheck while he was laid up! That’s a company worth being loyal to!

But beyond this feel good story, I feel there are a great batch of lessons in economics and public relations to be studied. Let’s take a look at those.

Market Basket employees learned:

Just because something’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. This type of strike has never been attempted before. This was a non-union, employee organized strike to save the job of CEO. Nothing like this has been seen in modern history.
When you stand up for something you really believe in, you can overcome power, money and greed.
People will back you if you do the right thing.
You have to stick together and stay strong. Too many broken links in this chain would have surely resulted in a win for the other side, and likely Market Basket would have been sold to a major corporate chain.
Sacrifice hurts. Many of these people had no income for a month. This could’t have been easy, yet standing firm resulted in a huge victory!

Other supermarket chains learned:

Apparently nothing. I feel there was a huge opportunity missed here. I walked into both Shaws and Stop & Shop here in Gloucester, and there were no special sales. No dropping of the foolish “rewards” card program by S&S, where you need a card to get the sale price, of course you can have an employee swipe his/her card but you don’t get the “bonus points” for other rewards. Ugh! I routinely paid much more for grocery staples at these two stores than I did previously at Market Basket. (in some cases more than double!)

There was no big PR push to welcome Market Basket customers. It would have been a wonderful move to hear one of these chains announce something like: “Market Basket customers have spoken loud and strong and WE want to fill the void left by this strike. We’ll be lowering prices and finding out what we can do to gain the kind of customer loyalty that Market Basket has sown”.

Nope, instead they went about business as usual, and will surely suffer the consequences as the beloved chain comes back on line.

Customers learned:
Much the same that the MB employees learned. That when you back the right horse you get rewarded.
The corporate Supermarket chains really don’t see you in any terms other than dollars. That’s okay, it’s they way they operate, and this is America, they’re free to do so. But you are free to shop where your dollar stretches farther and ends up in the hands of a company that along with profit motive, tries to make life for it’s employees and customers a little better.
You won’t starve if you boycott a food provider.

I learned:

That it get’s damn expensive eating at restaurants every night for a month!