Helmet, check. Tank, check. But Mike Dukakis tells me he simply is too busy to broker a peace in the supermarket war that has engulfed Market Basket.
"I teach right through the summer here at NU, and between my teaching responsibilities and about a dozen other things I am doing, I just can't do it," wrote the former governor, who teaches politics at Northeastern University.
I had reached out to the Duke Monday, figuring he could try to talk some sense into the two feuding factions of the Demoulas family that owns Market Basket. Obviously, the board is in over its head and needs outside help to mediate a truce.
An elder statesman seemed like the solution. I was hoping for a Greek Miracle before it's too late.
Here's why: After decades of Demoulas v. Demoulas, the food fight is finally spilling into the aisles. Employees are revolting, store shelves are empty, and customers are staying away.
Enough is enough.
What workers are doing is admirable. I know many of us can't help but cheer for the courageous rank-and-file employees standing up to the new management (Bad Arthur) and putting their jobs on the line for what they believe in (return of Good Arthur). We all have a soft spot for the Norma Raes of the world.
But everyone working at Market Basket is about to be on the losing end of this battle when customers shop elsewhere because there's no more produce or paper towels. Others may start to avoid the stores because they don't want to cross a picket line just to get a carton of milk.
"Some people when they leave, they will never come back," said Mike Tesler, a partner at consulting firm, Retail Concepts. "It's very dangerous to lose your customer for a week."
While unhappy workers have a right to rally, remember: You do not work for a democracy. You work for a private company. When you do something that jeopardizes the profitability of the enterprise, you can be fired. So far at least eight employees have been let go. No surprises here. The new co-CEOs warned workers this could happen.
And dozens of Beacon Hill lawmakers who are calling for a boycott of Market Basket? This is not socialism either. Let the free market be free. This is a $4.6 billion business with 71 stores. Get involved only if employees are being unfairly treated or store conditions deteriorate.
Now I don't know Arthur T. Demoulas (Good Arthur) from Arthur S. Demoulas (Bad Arthur), but I do know someone has to step in to bring peace to Market Basket.
The cousins have been locked in a bitter power struggle dating back to the 1970s when the family of Arthur S. accused the Arthur T. side of cheating them out of company shares. Workers love Arthur T., saying he pays them well and treats them like family.
The board, however, fired him for being insubordinate and spending money recklessly.
Warning: this can be a dangerous assignment. One time, the cousins broke out in a fist fight in court.
With the Duke out, who else can step up to clean up the mess? The grocery business is an ultra-competitive one, and if Market Basket wants to survive, it needs to resolve this standoff soon before there's nothing left to fight over.
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