Implausible win: Workers hail return of Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas

Workers and loyal customers boycotted New England Market Basket supermarkets for six weeks in a bid to restore a management team that held out for worker-friendly management practices. In the end, they won.

Steven Senne/AP
Market Basket employees Luz Medina of Revere, Mass., (front) and Rosimeire Farias of Burlington, Mass., (center right) clasp their hands as they watch a televised speech by restored Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas at a supermarket location in Chelsea, Mass., Thursday.

A bitter family feud that brought national attention to a local New England supermarket chain where workers revolted against the sacking of their beloved CEO has finally been resolved.

After six weeks of worker strikes and tense negotiations, shareholders of the Tewksbury, Mass.-based Market Basket announced late Wednesday night that ousted executive Arthur T. Demoulas and his sisters will be allowed to buy out the 50.5 percent of shares owned by rival cousin Arthur S. Demoulas for $1.5 billion.

Arthur T., as the victorious cousin is known, addressed several hundred cheering workers in Tewksbury Thursday morning.

"Seeing all of you here today is like seeing a little piece of heaven on earth," he told his adoring employees.

While it likely will take several months to finalize the sale, Arthur T. was immediately reinstated and will be allowed to bring back managers that were fired for striking on his behalf.

Many employees are elated by the news.

“Wow. I feel like I won the lottery,” said Buddy Wemmers, a Market Basket truck driver told The Boston Globe. “What a huge relief.”

The decades-long family feud came to a head this June when Arthur S. fired his cousin in June. As shareholders shifted their allegiance to Arthur S., who has historically fought for shareholder dividends, workers threw their support behind Arthur T., who is known for benevolent management practices.

On July 18, thousands of workers at the company's 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine began walking off the job and picketing in the streets. Store shelves remained empty for weeks as drivers, stock personnel, cashiers, and managers refused to return to work until Arthur T. was reinstated. Loyal customers took up their cause, joining picket lines and boycotting the stores.

Strikes happen all the time in major corporations across the country and family-owned companies are no stranger to internal squabbles. So how did the strife of the Demoulas family become national news?

First of all, strikes typically only occur in union workplaces, where contracts and the collective bargaining power of unions provide workers with some degree of certainty that they will be able keep their jobs once the action is resolved. Market Basket employees were not unionized and the company board threatened several times to fire employees that refused to return to work. At least 10 managers were terminated.

“To have an internal uprising of just about everyone, without a union, is very unusual in American industry,” said David Lewin, professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Globe. “And it’s even more unusual for workers to say, ‘We want this guy to come back’ – and to have him actually come back.”

What’s more, in a nation where CEOs frequently earn literally hundreds of times the wages of low-level employees, these workers risked their own livelihoods – forgoing pay for weeks on end – for a corporate executive. The reason for that devotion is as compelling as the novelty.

Under Arthur T.’s reign, Market Basket employees have enjoyed generous wages – full-time employees start at $12 an hour – paid vacation time, and profit sharing, while offering consumers prices that are lower than those at Wal-Mart and turning a profit for shareholders, according to Esquire:

Despite such presumably tight profit margins, Market Basket pays its roughly 19,000 workers yearly bonuses that often equal up to several months worth of salary, plus invests the equivalent of 15 percent of every paycheck into a retirement plan. At the same time, the company is impressively profitable. Shareholders have pocketed in excess of $1 billion since 2000, while the business is currently the 127th biggest privately owned American company according to Forbes. In 2013, Market Basket reportedly rang in $4.6 billion in revenue.

The six-week-long standoff has taken its toll on the company's bottom line and only time will tell if the the newly reinstated Arthur T. will be able to restore Market Basket to its former glory.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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