How many bosses do you know of who, after being ousted by upper management, would get a show of support from 5,000-plus employees? As the Market Basket family saga continues to unfold, it is nothing short of impressive to see thousands of non-unionized workers rally to demand the reinstatement of former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. After a first rally on Friday, which drew about 2,000 people, the new Market Basket leadership fired eight workers. But, in a remarkable show of loyalty, thousands more returned to the company’s headquarters in Tewksbury today.
The devotion that Arthur T. Demoulas incites in the workers is even more striking in an era when performance in the workplace has been so professionalized and automated that managers come and go without so much the blink of an eye from co-workers, all in the interest of maximizing productivity. But Arthur T. Demoulas believed in a simple business strategy in an industry that generally doesn’t invest much in its people: carry no debt, keep low prices, and treat employees like family. The average tenure of a Demoulas store manager is 34 years, according to media reports. The eight employees who were fired had a combined total of 280 years of experience.
If you have been to a Market Basket, you know where its appeal lies. If you’ve never set foot in one, I can tell you it’s one of the most chaotic and wonderful shopping trips you can experience. As a graduate student, I would often go to the Market Basket on Somerville Avenue with my two roommates and stock up on ridiculously cheap cans of Goya coconut water, South American pastries, and arequipe. The produce section always features exotic fruits and vegetables: back then Market Basket was one of the few places where you could find jicama. Sure, you would have to circle the parking lot twice or so to find a spot; Market Basket is always overcrowded, but it’s well worth it.
The leadership of Arthur T. Demoulas made that possible, and employees seemed as pleased by their working conditions as customers are by the merchandise. Demoulas has been notably silent during these extraordinary protests; it’s unclear whether he’s playing an advisory role behind the scenes or helping his supporters with public relations. If so, that could be another mark of his business acumen: He puts pressure on the rival family members who ousted him, and at the same time looks a hero. It could well be that, in this situation, he is.