THE SIGHT of 5,000 people taking to the streets to support a good boss is so unusual these days as to seem almost freakish. In today’s professionally managed workplace, labor policies are implemented by human-resource professionals, with the CEO keeping his or her distance. But the grocery chain Market Basket, you may have heard, is a family operation, for better or worse. Following the ouster in June of company president Arthur T. Demoulas by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and the company’s board, a companywide protest developed, and eight managers were fired. Loyal customers joined employees this week in protests.
The welcome news about the Market Basket protests is that the they are not driven by the usual labor complaints: unfair wages, poor work conditions. Instead, the protesters have a single demand: the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas. So strong is their belief in the leadership of “Arthur T.” that they’re willing to put their own jobs on the line.
The intra-family feuding behind the Demoulas empire — with its 71 stores and 25,000 employees — goes back decades, including court battles and even fisticuffs. The Market Basket employees, many of whom have more than 20 years with the company, have clearly followed this battle closely, and chosen their side. They fear that a genial work environment, and generous profit-sharing program, is being jeopardized by a corporate culture focused on the bottom line. The Demoulas-Market Basket saga has gone beyond being a soap opera about family dysfunction. It’s now about the familial bond that can develop between a caring boss and his workers. Other CEOs should take note.