By Tim Coco
WHAV President and General Manager
History not only was made over the last two months, but Market Basket workers have given the labor movement one of its biggest boosts in years.
Last night skeptical employees and supportive customers finally got the news for which they have been waiting.
“Effective immediately, Arthur T. Demoulas is returning to Market Basket with day-to-day operational authority of the company. He and his management team will return to Market Basket during the interim period while the transaction to purchase the Company is completed. The current Co-CEO’s will remain in place pending the closing, which is expected to occur in the next several months,” according to a statement from the Demoulas Market Basket board of directors.
“All Associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the Company back to normal operations.”
Those “associates,” who almost immediately began protesting the June 23 ouster of beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, bristled at the idea of union organizing. In fact, however, that is exactly what they accomplished. The National Labor Relations Board, Washington, D.C. confirmed this in mid July when a spokesman told WHAV News, Market Basket employees are protected since they are engaged in “protected, concerted activity.”
In the end, Artie T. and his side of the family entered into an agreement to buy the 50.5 percent of the company controlled by his archrival, cousin Arthur S. Demoulas. Artie first made what would amount to a $1.5 billion bid a month after his ouster.
One can only imagine the cold shoulder—or worse—co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch will receive during the period their so-called leadership overlaps with Artie T. It will likely be difficult to maintain the peace. Thornton and Gooch’s reputations for company-destroying antics preceded them. Their comeuppance is a rare victory for employees and consumers alike.
Economist Richard Wolff, during an appearance on WHAV’s Open Mike Show, was one of the few who early on understood the gravity of employee picketers and customer boycotters. “It really has enormous ramifications all over the United States,” he said. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus, UMass, Amherst.
Thornton and Gooch not only will have to deal with the “good” Demoulas, they will have to face the eight other employees they fired. Tom Trainor, Tom Gordon, Joe Garon, Steve Paulenka, Jim Lacourse, Joe Schmidt, Dean Joyce and Mike Kettenbach are coming back to work.
Among Politicians, There Were Winners and Losers
Winners include Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and her N.H. counterpart Joseph Foster who early on issued a warning to Keith Cowan, Market Basket board chairman, and Gooch and Thornton.
“These laws ensure timely payment of all wages and protect other workplace rights. We wish to remind you of your company’s obligations to workers whose employment may be terminated, whether or not a result of any restructuring or reorganization”
State Senator Barry Finegold, candidate for state treasurer, also bravely stood against corporate power. Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni and Rep. Diana DiZoglio initially joined him locally. Those politicians afraid to initially sign on rank among the “losers.” Unfortunately, there are too many of them to mention.
It is fair to single out Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick as one of the losers. While he may have ultimately played a crucial role in bringing the two sides together, his initial reluctance to get involved disappointed many. Further, the governor’s failure to disclose his wife’s role at the law firm representing the “bad” Arthur cost him his credibility.
Now saddled with debt, it remains to be seen whether Artie T.’s model of low prices, high employee benefits and profitability can continue.