Does the Market Basket Story Indicate a Resurgence in the Power of Workers? | DCR Workforce Blog

Does the Market Basket Story Indicate a Resurgence in the Power of Workers?

power of workerIt looks like those protesters in New England are at it again. We all know that 239 years ago their dissatisfaction with their leadership led to the American Revolution. This time around, anger and demands for change are aimed at a different type of leader – their employer. In the cities and towns surrounding Lexington and Concord, workers of a popular regional supermarket chain are refusing to work. Now, striking workers are nothing new, but this situation is different in many ways and may break new ground in the worker-employer relationship.

Market Basket, a privately held family-owned grocery chain, is caught in the center of a long-running family dispute that has lasted for decades. Two weeks ago, the company’s board – consisting of family members – voted to oust the CEO. When some workers protested the change, the company fired eight managers –some of whom had been with Market Basket for 30 years – for “attempting to create a worker rebellion.”

The result was a firestorm of activity. Many of the company’s 25,000 workers refused to report to work. Local legislators conducted press interviews, encouraging customers to boycott the stores. Customers not only complied, but joined in the protests at each of the 71 stores. The result: over the past few weeks, sales have dropped by as much as 75%, stock has been depleted as drivers refuse to deliver, stores have been forced to temporarily close, and the company is experiencing drastic losses. Workers and customers have promised to continue this “rebellion” until the former CEO is reinstated.

DCR is not taking a position on who is right or wrong in this corporate power struggle. However, we feel that the situation raises interesting issues regarding the employer-worker relationship.

Much has been written about the death of the concept of “employment for life”. This is particularly true in the retail industry, which is known for high turnover, large numbers of part-time and temporary workers, and limited benefits. The retail industry has often been used as the example when discussing employer efforts to avoid paying overtime or offering benefits under ACA.

Yet this company managed to break away from that image, boasting of a high number of workers whose tenure exceeds 15 years. Their employee loyalty stems from attractive benefits, and direct executive involvement in employee relations. That loyalty is so strong that workers are willing to risk their jobs to support their old boss. Customers who have joined in this battle are quick to point out that employee loyalty translates to a positive shopping experience and competitive prices.

Is it possible that workers in other companies will follow suit, refusing to accept the inevitability of lay-offs, reduced benefits, and other changes to working conditions that have become commonplace since the Great Recession? If workers in positions where supply exceeds demand can take on this risk, will companies begin to see greater pressure from workers in highly skilled positions? Will all workers begin to demand a stronger voice in the company’s choice of leadership? Is the pendulum beginning to swing back toward the workers? Stay tuned!

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.