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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Reflections on the Market Basket Protests of Summer 2014

As many of you know, the Market Basket protests of this past summer were big local news. A very successful and — many would argue — a very loving and caring man, Arthur T. DeMoulas, was relieved of his position as CEO of the company by his very own relatives.

To give a little background, Market Basket began like many American success stories: with immigrants. Greek immigrants themselves, the DeMoulas family noticed a need for products for the Greek-American population in Lowell, MA, and they decided to start a business to fulfill that need.

In the early 1950s, two brothers, Telemachus “Mike” DeMoulas and George A. DeMoulas, bought the original DeMoulas store that their parents started in Lowell and transformed it into the supermarket chain it is today.

Arthur T. DeMoulas, son of Mike Demoulas, along with two other company executives, was relieved of his position on June 23, 2014. This came after repeated attempts, starting in 2010, to fire T. DeMoulas. Protests began and continued well into the summer. Customers and employees alike stood up and rallied around the beloved executive, which is unheard of in American history.

So what led customers and employees to join together for such a worthy cause? Why would employees protest and potentially jeopardize their jobs — as many of them did? Why would customers boycott a business and run the risk of emptying out their pocketbooks? Well, once you look more into this company, you’ll understand why.

Business majors, please take note: you might learn something useful from the Market Basket story.

To start off, Market Basket has the lowest prices when compared to competitors that also marketed themselves as economical. A 2013 study conducted by Consumers’ Checkbook states that Market Basket’s prices were 20 percent lower than their competitors’ prices and, according to 2014 ratings conducted by Consumer Reports, it was ranked as sixth among supermarkets nationally.

The Boston Globe said that employees are paid well above the minimum wage at $12 an hour. Those who work more than 1,000 hours in a year are eligible to enter a profit sharing program. Not to mention that employees also receive benefits such as paid sick leave, health care, and bonuses.

Just with that information alone, you can understand why employees and customers came out, protested, and boycotted the company. Market Basket is a company that inner city residents depend on regardless of income. During the protests, customers were forced to look elsewhere and found that they ended up spending much more than they would at Market Basket. Not everyone, believe it or not, has the privilege of affording to shop at the likes of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

Market Basket, when it comes down to it, serves the marginalized and disadvantaged. This company, in a very big way, combats the disparities that are often found in urban communities of color like my hometown of Chelsea, MA.

Charging customers low, affordable prices and paying employees above the minimum wage with added benefits shows that Market Basket is like no other American grocery company. In the minority in many respects, this company serves as a model of what a great American business can and should be.

When a business makes community a top priority, it makes for happier people—something that more companies should take note of. No one knows this more than former Market Basket employee, Tania Ceja. Ceja, a first-generation American, had this to say about the events of this past summer: “I worked there for five years; it wasn’t always easy but it was a great company to be working for.” She continued, “What job with a CEO is going to give you at least five bonuses coming out of his own pocket a year including benefits? When Mr. DeMoulas would visit, he would always be happy with what the store was like. He’s a really nice man, and what everyone did to bring him back was really inspiring; even if I don’t work there anymore, I’m glad things are back to normal.”

Going back to my own roots in my beloved hometown of Chelsea, Market Basket has been an important fixture in the community for as long as I can remember. As a first-generation American, it’s the first and only store my family has ever done business with, as is the case with many other immigrant families in the city.

Walking up and down those aisles is a meaningful experience. It is a place where you can not only hear English being spoken, but Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali, and so on. You can shop the world there, but you’ll especially find your standard Latin American and Southeast Asian fare.

The employees are sharply dressed, as though working for a downtown Boston corporate office.

Instead of wearing some cheap worn-out polo shirt on a daily basis, employees dress for success. You see beautiful, hardworking people trying to provide for their families. It is comforting to walk the aisles and see women in traditional colorful dresses, Muslim women in varying beautiful hijabs, and Latina and Asian American women speaking their respective native languages loudly and confidently, not worrying what others may think of them.

It’s almost like music to my ears. Seeing the diversity within the very walls of Market Basket is comforting and beautiful, just as the U.S. is beautiful. In a way, Market Basket embodies what this country is all about.  

More recently, though, it’s more common to see well dressed young white people roaming the aisles of Market Basket—a testament to the growing amount of gentrification in the city. The irony in all of this is that Market Basket serves the very people and communities that gentrifiers are pushing out. What’s a life-long and loyal customer to say or think about something like this?