Standoff Paralyzes New England Grocery Chain, Hurts Customers
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In New England, a pretty dramatic uprising of workers at a super market chain is now in its fourth week. The company is called Market Basket and its 25,000 employees have ground business to a halt, costing millions of dollars a day. What they want is their CEO back.
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CROWD: Artie T. Artie T. Artie T. Artie T. Artie T. Artie T.
GREENE: Artie T. or Arthur T. Demoulas is the former CEO. His cousin and boardroom rival Arthur S. Demoulas fired him. From member station WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch reports on a family feud that is spiraling out of control.
CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Some call it the Occupy movement of labor struggles. Some say it's a new worker revolt for the 21st century. The fact is, after their CEO was fired, hundreds of Market Basket warehouse workers and truckers walked off the job.
MICHAEL PEREZ: This is symbolizing something in America.
NICKISCH: Warehouse employee Michael Perez press says it's simple. Workers like him want Arthur T. Demoulas back because he paid them well. They fear that Arthur S. Demoulas will take their bonuses and give them to shareholders instead.
PEREZ: These greedy one-percenters cannot just come in here and say, listen, we're going to take from you and we're going to take from you. And we're going to keep giving it to our rich cousins and our rich family. No, 600 people just crippled a billion-dollar company.
NICKISCH: The Market Basket takedown is unprecedented because these workers are not unionized. They're not even technically on strike. But they've paralyzed the company by stopping food deliveries to its 71 full-service supermarkets around the region. The checkout lanes are open at a store in suburban Boston but most of the shelves are bare. Store director Michael Dunleavy told his 300 part-time workers he doesn't have any work for them.
MICHAEL DUNLEAVY: Terrible, terrible - I had employees crying in front of me.
NICKISCH: Dunleavy supports the disruption of the business, but he says he can't give shift to workers who have nothing to do. And there are more than 12,000 part-time employees across the company.
DUNLEAVY: Temporarily, there may not be any hours available for them to work. No one is being terminated or laid off.
SILVIA BATISTA: I'm very, very hurt today.
NICKISCH: Cashier Silvia Batista says she doesn't blame her boss. She blames the new company executives.
BATISTA: I don't agree with - those people doing. I hope they know how hurt I am.
NICKISCH: Batista says she'll have to collect employment until business gets back to normal. The ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas has offered to buy the other half of the company, controlled by his rival, Arthur S. But the board accuses Arthur T. of encouraging the worker uprising and holding the company hostage. He says the board is playing games. The enduring standoff is not only hurting profits and part-timers. It's also hurting many low-income customers who depend on the discount grocer. Customers have been taping their receipts from competitor supermarkets to the windows of Market Basket stores.
ISABELLE JACKSON: I can't take it. I'm very upset.
NICKISCH: Isabelle Jackson is raising her four grandchildren in public housing and says she can't afford other grocery stores. She calls Market Basket workers selfish.
JACKSON: You know, you don't shutdown a business like this and leave the people to not eat. Did anybody think about us?
NICKISCH: The company has hired some replacement truckers and workers to try to resume deliveries to the stores. But current employees are not exactly welcoming them.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You dirt bag, you dirt bag, you dirt bag.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You scum.
NICKISCH: As the costs mount for both sides, things only seem to be getting uglier. For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.