Would your employees strike to keep you?August 1, 2014
Employees of the Market Basket supermarket chain in Massachusetts captured international attention when they went on strike to demand the return of the company’s CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. According to news reports, Mr. Demoulas, a generous soul who insisted on liberal employee benefits and regular social contact with his workers, was recently forced out by a profit-minded Board of Directors that’s reportedly controlled by his cousin. (That’s gotta hurt.) Despite alleged management threats to replace them, however, workers continue to protest and urge customers to stay away until their beloved boss is returned to them.
The British Daily Mail is cheerily calling the workers’ actions “The ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Protest.” Personally, I’d call it long overdue.
News stories nearly always oversimplify things, going for an engaging tale rather than a thorough reporting of facts. Nonetheless, the story of employees going to bat for the boss who cared about them as people and thought their welfare was more important than wringing out every last penny of profit for the owners is compelling. That they’re banding together to help him despite the risk of losing their own jobs is positively inspiring.
Job search websites continually assert that it’s especially difficult for older people in management to find new jobs if they get laid off or, as in Mr. Demoulas’ case, forced out of their positions. Senior execs can’t afford to get too comfortable, we’re told, and that may be true. But the Market Basket protests offer at least two lessons that I think executives are wise to heed. First, when pushed hard enough, employees are still willing to band together to fight for decent working conditions. Second, if you’re smart and good-hearted enough to make sure they’re treated decently, the boss they’ll fight for just might be you.
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