Tom Kochan

  • 20 Oct 2015 9:18 AM | Mike Lillich (Administrator)

    Jobs Market Stuck in Neutral — Time for Candidates to Talk About How to Fix It

    Today’s jobs report is very disappointing. Essentially the labor market is stuck in neutral, yet unfortunately there’s little political will to do much to get it back into gear.

    The US economy added only 142,000 jobs last month, compared with economists' estimatesof about 200,000. That put the average gain over the past thee months at just 167,000 – down from an average of 260,000 in 2014. Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.1%.


  • 31 Aug 2015 10:12 AM | Mike Lillich (Administrator)


    How can workers fight for higher wages in today’s economy? The Library of Congress/Flickr

    How can workers fight for higher wages in today’s economy? The Library of Congress/Flickr

    Thomas KochanMIT Sloan School of Management

    As Labor Day approaches, we are likely to hear from a growing chorus of political, religious, academic, labor and business leaders who agree “America needs a raise” to reverse three decades of wage stagnation and rising income inequality.

    But this consensus that something needs to be done has yet to produce a clear narrative or strategy for what to do. Getting there requires an agreement on what norms should guide wage growth, an understanding of the causes of wage stagnation and policies to address these causes in ways consistent with today’s economy and workforce.

    It’s been 133 years since New York City celebrated the nation’s first Labor Day holiday in 1882 to acknowledge the role workers play in the economy. The federal government followed suit a dozen years later. As we review the suspected culprits behind wage stagnation, now is a good time to consider a new normal to ensure workers get their fair share of America’s prosperity.

    The old norm dies

    America once had at least an implicit norm guiding wages. As the chart below shows, from roughly the end of World War II through much of the 1970s, real (cost of living-adjusted) wages increased in tandem with gains in productivity.

    That norm emerged out of negotiations from 1947 to 1950 between General Motors and the United Auto Workers. It then spread through collective bargaining with other auto companies by unions and companies that adapted it to their specific circumstances in other industries and by nonunion firms that wanted to minimize the incentive for their employees to unionize.

    But something changed around 1980, as the chart shows. Since then, real wages have increased only about 8% compared with a 63% increase in productivity. This has set off a great debate among analysts searching for an explanation of what caused this wage-productivity gap to grow.

    The college degree gap

    The first argument that gained favor was that changes in technology were producing “skill-biased technological change” that increased demand and pushed up wages for more highly educated workers.

    The growing wage gap in the 1980s between those with a college degree and those without one supported this view. If this was the primary cause, the remedy should be increased education.

    However, growth in this gap eased the following decade and especially since 2000, according to Economic Policy Institute think tank. While there is little question that the long-run effects of technological change are in this upward direction and will thereby make it harder for uneducated workers to command high wages, there is also a growing awareness that increased education alone will not solve the wage stagnation problem.

    Globalization’s role

    The next suspect in the blame game has been globalization.

    Since 1980, America has lost just over one-third of its manufacturing jobs, and it’s no question that competition from China elsewhere has held down wages.

    While investment in modern manufacturing technologies might help rebuild US output, these technologies will not generate anywhere near the number of good-paying jobs that have been lost.

    Moreover, the small number of manufacturing jobs being “resourced” back to the US are, in many cases, coming back at a discount from prior levels commanded by similar jobs.

    The woeful minimum wage

    The third culprit in the search for an explanation is the decline in purchasing power of the national minimum wage.

    Today’s US$7.25 per hour minimum has a purchasing power about 25% below its peak in 1968. Raising the national minimum to $10.10, as proposed by President Obama and allies in Congress, would restore the purchasing power for those now at the bottom of the wage distribution.

    But this effort has been blocked by the ongoing political gridlock in Washington. This has led to campaigns to increase the minimum wage in different cities and states, most notably the successful fight for $15 in Seattle and efforts of fast-food workers to raise or eliminate tipped wage minimums. Local innovations like this help but are not likely to spread to less hospitable communities and states across the country.

    The decline of unions

    More recently, analysts have begun to recognize that the long-term decline in unions and worker bargaining power accounts for a sizable portion of the problem.

    It is no coincidence that the gap between wages and productivity began to expand dramatically around 1980, a turning point for collective bargaining.

    That’s when union bargaining power began the three-decade-long decline that continues today. International competition was already eating away at unionized manufacturing companies in the US, but the trend was accelerated by efforts to tame rampant inflation, a deep recession and the growth of nonunion domestic competition. In addition, President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers signaled management could take a harder line again unions.

    Recent estimates indicate the decline in unions accounts for as much as 20% to 30% of the rise in wage inequality. But because the 1935 labor law that supported worker rights to organize is so badly broken and outmoded, unions are not likely to rebound soon. And even if they did, the old form of collective bargaining would probably not work as well in today’s global economy.

    The one period in which wages began to move in a positive direction since this period of union decline, especially for low-wage workers, was when the labor market finally tightened during the buildup of the high-tech bubble from 1994 to 1997.

    Very tight labor markets would do so again, but the Fed’s worry about future inflation is likely to limit how far or how long it will promote tight labor markets.

    A new national wage norm

    This quick review suggests there is no single cause of wage stagnation and therefore no silver bullet for reversing it.

    But what if we focused instead on reestablishing a simple norm that wages and incomes should rise in tandem with worker productivity? How might we retrofit the old policies and institutions that supported this norm to work in today’s innovation-based economy?

    Such an effort has to start with education. Continual technological changes require both higher levels of skill and the ability to learn throughout one’s career. This calls for strategies that expand apprenticeship programs and technical schools that engender the skills companies will need as baby boomers retire, as well as expanding the number of college graduates with the advanced science, technical, math and problem-solving skills in high demand.

    If global competition makes it difficult to sustain high wages in manufacturing or other industries under outsourcing pressure, then wage increases in these sectors will need to be tied more directly to profits, customer service or other indicators of enterprise performance. This is the approach the United Auto Workers and domestic automakers took to better align incentives of owners and workers in ways that both help drive productivity and reinstall a sense of fairness at the workplace.

    While this kind of norm should emerge from the private sector, ultimately it will take a comprehensive update of labor law to provide workers the ability to bargain at the highest levels where the key decisions affecting wages are made.

    The ruling last week by the National Labor Relations Board allowing subcontracted workers to negotiate with the parent firm is a step in the right direction. It may serve as a precursor to permitting fast-food workers to negotiate directly with a parent firm such as McDonald’s as opposed to only with individual restaurant franchisees.

    More reforms such as this one are necessary to protect and empower low-wage workers. Such labor reforms could include creating enterprise-wide “work councils” and supporting efforts of employees and contractors at “sharing” economy companies like Uber to negotiate a fair share of the revenue they help produce. One way involves drawing on the bargaining power provided by apps that help them calculate their hourly earnings after deducting the full range of expenses they incur.

    Minimum wages could also be tied to other economic indicators such as the cost of living or the ratio of the minimum to median wages and raised gradually to allow employers to make adjustments in strategy to avoid or minimize negative employment effects. That’s the strategy Seattle employed to pass its $15 minimum while easing the impact on business.

    How to spread the new norm

    What might replace collective bargaining as the means for diffusing this norm across the economy? Here government can learn from its historic role in spreading equal employment practices across industry when it started in 1965 requiring government contractors to take affirmative actions to eliminate discrimination in employment.

    The purchasing power of government can be brought to bear by requiring employers to disclose their wage and hour compliance records. It can also give priority in awarding contracts to firms that pay above-average wages and have in place supportive productivity-enhancing work practices.

    The federal government is on a course to do the first part. President Obama signed an executive order requiring companies to disclose their compliance records. Now it is time to move on to the second part of this strategy.

    So this Labor Day, let’s not only chant that America needs a raise but also rally around a simple norm that all workers should share fairly in the economic growth they help produce. We need to start pursuing this norm in ways that are well-matched to the needs of an innovation- and knowledge-driven global economy.

    Thomas Kochan is Professor of Management at MIT Sloan School of Management

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    Posted on August 31st, 2015 in Commentary

    © MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research, 100 Main St., Cambridge, MA 02142 | 1.617-324-6750 |

  • 31 Jul 2015 9:37 AM | Emily Smith (Administrator)
    This case was prepared by Zeynep Ton, Thomas A. Kochan and Cate Reavis.

    Blog posts are limited to 50 kilobytes, so most all formatting was removed in favor of content. The full case, with footnotes, exhibits, and formatting, is available in a PDF HERE.
    Copyright © 2014, Zeynep Ton and Thomas A. Kochan. All rights reserved. No parts of this published material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

    We’re a crazy bunch. If this was a poker game, we just went all in.— Steve Paulenka, Market Basket Facilities and Operations Supervisor [1]

    It was three in the morning of August 28, 2014 and Rosie Hagopian couldn’t sleep. She was due at work by eight, but she couldn’t wait that long. Hagopian oversaw equipment purchases and maintenance at Market Basket, a New England-based supermarket chain where she had worked for 41 years, but she hadn’t been to work for six weeks. Nor had she been paid in that time. Giving up on sleep, she got dressed and drove to company headquarters, where she found a few of her colleagues already at their desks. They hadn’t worked or been paid in six weeks, either. But just hours earlier, Arthur T. Demoulas (Arthur T.) had been reinstated with full operational authority, along with 17 members of his management team, after being fired in late June by the company’s board of directors, a group controlled by his rival and cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas (Arthur S.). (See Exhibit 1 for timeline.) Now—at last—it was time to get back to work.

    At a time when public perception of CEOs was at a low point, Market Basket employees—joined by vendors and customers—had just spent six weeks protesting the ouster of their CEO and demanding his reinstatement. Arthur T. had worked for the company for over 40 years and had been CEO since 2008, but why was having him at the helm so important to so many different stakeholders? What exactly were they trying to protect? And why were their concerns so widely and deeply shared that a broad coalition of high-level executives, middle managers, front-line clerks, warehouse workers, and truck drivers would band together in protest without any legal protections for their actions?[2]

    The Supermarket Industry

    In 2013, the $620 billion U.S. supermarket industry[3] was known for low margins (averaging 1.5%)4, high fixed costs, low-paying jobs with few benefits and uncertain weekly schedules, high employee turnover, and poor customer service.5 Understaffing was common and resulted in unstocked shelves, long checkout lines, and customers wandering the aisles looking for someone who could help them find products.

    A typical supermarket carried approximately 44,000 items in a 46,000 square-foot space, a median size that had fallen since the mid-2000s (see Exhibit 2), and had sales of $25.1 million per year.6 Supermarkets faced competition from a range of different formats (see Exhibit 3 for descriptions) and some industry experts predicted that market share for traditional supermarkets would drop from 40.2% to 37.2% between 2013 and 2018 (Exhibit 4) and that there would be 2% fewer traditional supermarkets by 2018 (see Exhibit 5).

    In addition to national chains like WalMart and Whole Foods, Market Basket competed against three regional (New England) supermarket chains: Shaw’s, owned by privately held Albertsons, operated 155 stores in New England (some of which carried the Star Market name); Stop & Shop, a wholly owned subsidiary of the publicly traded Dutch company Ahold NV, had 400 stores throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey; and Hannaford, with 177 locations in New England and upstate New York, was owned by Delhaize USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Belgium-based and publicly traded Delhaize Group.

    In 2013, Shaw’s and Stop & Shop closed 12 and 9 locations, respectively, in markets where Market Basket operated. As one industry analyst stated, Stop & Shop left New Hampshire because it was getting “battered” by Market Basket.7

    Market Basket

    In 1917, Greek immigrant Athanasios “Arthur” Demoulas (Demoulas Sr.)  and  his  wife  Efrosine opened a small market, called DeMoulas,8 in Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1954, Demoulas Sr. sold the business to his sons, Telemachus (Mike) and George, for $15,000. They acquired equal stakes and established DeMoulas Super Markets, Inc. When George died suddenly in 1971, Mike took over the business and also gave increased attention to George’s widow and four children. Mike, who had four kids of his own, attended George’s children’s sporting events, took them on lavish vacations, paid fortheir educations, and took care of their housing and business expenses. They began to joke that while some families received alimony, they received “Uncle Mony.”9

    But in 1990, George’s children claimed that Mike had begun buying George’s shares in the company, eventually depleting George’s family’s share from 50% to just 8% and increasing Mike’s from 50% to 92%.10 George’s family, led by his son Arthur S., sued to regain what they considered their rightful share. In 1996, after a series of contentious suits, countersuits, and appeals,  the  judge  ruled  in George’s family’s favor and granted them a 50.5% stake in the company. A year later, the court ordered Mike to pay George’s family $206 million.11 Believing the judge in the case had been biased against their side, Mike’s lawyers tried to pressure the judge’s clerk to provide evidence to support their claim of judicial misconduct. The plan failed, and two of Mike’s lawyers were disbarred and a third received a three-year suspension.12

    Meanwhile, Mike grew the business from 14 stores in 1971 to 51 stores in 1994. The business also included 47 shopping malls, and a golf course. The stores generated $1 billion in annual revenue and an estimated $50-$70 million in net income.13 Mike’s strategy was to keep prices low and stores clean and to finance growth with profits rather than through debt.  Even in his 70s, Mike was known to put in long hours, some of them greeting customers and bagging groceries.14 He was generous with the community, donating money to a wide range of institutions.15 He was also generous with his employees, starting a profit-sharing plan in 1963, which, by 1991, was estimated to hold $79 million for the 1,826 employees. It was also a source of friction in the family. George’s widow and children sued Mike, Arthur T., and chief financial officer D. Harold Sullivan for violating their fiduciary duty as the plan’s trustees by using that money to make real-estate loans to business associates and friends. In a legal settlement, the three trustees agreed to have the profit-sharing pension plan sell $22 million of the loans and no longer make similar investments.16 None of the trustees were held liable for any damages to the plan, removed from their positions as trustees, or found to  have  breached  their fiduciary duty to the plan or the participants.17

    Industry observers wondered if the company would survive the family feud. As one noted in 1997:

    They sure know how to buy and sell product. They are the best at stacking it high and letting it fly. They know how to adjust stores to the demographic profile of the area, there’s tremendous customer loyalty and I’ll bet they have some of the most profitable stores in the country. Legal hassles have hurt their ability to grow, and the big question is whether the chain might be sold off.18

    Market Basket Store Network and Organization in 2014

    The chain did survive and, in fact, thrived even after Mike died in 2003. Mike’s son, Arthur T., became president and CEO in 2008 and carried on the company’s successful business model, telling the board it comprised three “vital pieces”: “No. 1 is its people. Without them this place goes down the tubes quicker than you can say hi-ho. No. 2 is our low-price offering that we have and our low- cost structure. And No. 3 is that we’ve got no debt.”19

    By 2014, DeMoulas Super Markets, Inc., (operating as Market Basket) had 25,000 non-unionized employees, 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and revenues of $4.6 billion. (See Exhibit 6 for Massachusetts locations.) It was the fastest-growing retailer  in  eastern Massachusetts20 and owned 15 million square feet of real estate, including 15 of its 42 Massachusetts locations. Millions of these additional square feet were in firms owned by both sides of the Demoulas family.21  The company earned lease revenue from retailers in the malls it owned.22

    Market Basket’s business model was driven by volume: 2.1 million customer transactions a week, an average of  29,600 per  store  (compared to  15,746  per week  for a  typical supermarket23). As  store director Ron Lambert explained, “You can go to the Stop & Shop and pay $3.99 for a package of Oreos. They might sell 100 of them. We sell them for $1.50, but we’ll sell 10,000. We’re going to win in volume. We always win in volume.” The company was highly productive and operated with

    no debt. Payroll was 10.5% of sales (including bonuses) while the supermarket industry average was 9.8%.24  Payroll was around 12% of sales when contributions to the profit-sharing plan were included. In 2012, the company’s operating margin was 7.2%, higher than Stop & Shop’s 4.1% and Whole Foods’s 6.4%.25

    The average Market Basket store was 80,000 square feet and carried 60,000 products. The largest store had 1,000 employees and the smallest had 350; differences were based on sales volume. Approximately 70% of store employees worked part-time. Many of the stores were in low-income communities where real estate was cheap.26 Ron Lambert reflected on a store opening in Brockton, Massachusetts, a low-income town with high unemployment:

    The mall where we were located was a disaster. It’s a big mall and we were going to anchor it. And it had a Macy's and Sears and probably 70 stores. But it was desolate. . . . Then on opening day, there was a mariachi band playing music. The day lilies were popping up out of the ground. The parking lot was paved. People were partying… I was standing next to Arthur T.,  just observing, and he says to me, “See? When we come to a neighborhood, we’re not just here to open a store. We create a culture. We bring business. We help the area.”

    All stores opened at 7:00 am and closed at 9:00 pm (7:00 pm on Sundays) and were closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In contrast, competitors varied their hours depending on location but were typically open until at least 10:00 pm, Sundays  included.  Some  operated  24  hours.  Market Basket stores were managed by a director who was assisted by assistant directors, front-end managers, a merchandising manager, and department managers—one each for grocery, meat, bakery, fresh produce, dairy, deli, frozen, kitchen, and, in some stores, beer and wine. Some of the newer stores also had cafes. The department managers reported both to the store director and to a regional department supervisor who managed around 24 stores.

    Most  store  merchandise  came  directly  through  company-owned-and-operated  warehouses.  Products in warehouses were stocked exactly as they were in a store, which made store stocking more efficient, and delivered to the stores by 68 drivers operating company-owned trucks. Items like bread, chips, soda, and beer were delivered directly to stores by vendors. In order to improve gross margins, stores carried a wide array of private-label products; a 2010 retail study found that Market Basket carried more private-label SKUs than Walmart.27

    Market Basket had a lean management structure.  Under Arthur T.  were William Marsden, VP of operations, Joseph Rockwell, VP of grocery sales and merchandising, and Jim Miamis, VP of perishables. Two hundred employees at headquarters supported the store network. There were approximately 22 category buyers, six of whom were  dedicated  to  grocery,  which  accounted  for nearly 50% of revenue. (A competitor might have up to 20 buyers for grocery alone.) The buyers had decades of experience. Deli director Ron Carrignan, for example, had been with the company for 54

    years. Grocery buyers Jim Lacourse and Joe Garon had 30 and 49 years of experience, respectively.28 Buyers worked closely with stores’ department managers to understand customer needs.

    Customer Service

    Market Basket offered a no-frills, “uncomplicated shopping environment,” with no loyalty cards or self-checkout lines.29 It didn’t even have an official website.30 On average, prices were lower than competitors. According to the Strategic Resource Group, a family of five would spend $1,500 less per year at Market Basket than it would have spent at a competitor.31 A study conducted by Consumers’ Checkbook, a website that rated local service firms, found that when comparing the cost of national brand items, Market Basket was 10% to 21% cheaper than Stop  &  Shop  and  22%  cheaper  than Shaw’s, even inching out Walmart.32 Market Basket also  emphasized  uniform  pricing  rather  than having higher prices in locations where there was higher willingness to pay.

    The company did, however, customize its product selection based on demographics. As Tom Trainor, a district supervisor who had more than 40 years with Market Basket, explained, “We cater to where we are. Is it a bagel town or is it a muffin town?” Before opening a new store, buyers and store directors studied the area, taking note of what people ate based on their ethnic backgrounds. Trainor recalled that while preparing Market Basket’s Waltham, Massachusetts store for its grand opening, the store director and a buyer noticed that a few smaller markets in the area sold a special type of Afghan bread. “We had never even seen it before,” he noted, “but we observed that it sold very well. So we contacted the company that produces it and we’re now carrying it in Waltham.”

    Market Basket constantly worked to improve the customer experience. Indeed, “staying close to the customer” was one of Arthur T.’s management principles (see Exhibit 7). While most other retailers stocked their shelves when the stores were closed, Market Basket stocked during the day  when customers were shopping. That meant there was always someone on the floor to help customers. In peak times—before a snowstorm, for example—store managers handled the heavy traffic by asking customers to form a single line to spare them the exasperation of getting into the wrong line and watching those who had been behind them leave the store ahead of  them. The staff  would move displays around to make room for the line, monitor the line to ensure that no one cut ahead, and direct customers to the appropriate cashier when one became free.

    In 2004, the company put increased emphasis on customer service emphasizing more respectful and friendlier  service.  They  established  the  “10-foot  rule”  that  any  customer  within  10  feet  of  an

    employee should be acknowledged with a greeting or a smile. Employees could be found walking the aisles, ready to answer questions or help carry groceries to the car. One customer of Market Basket’s Brockton, Massachusetts store shared her unexpected customer service experience on Yelp: “I was shocked that while I was in the meat department, a teenager actually asked me if I needed any help finding anything!!!! The cashier said hello to me!!!! WOW! I seriously felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.”

    The campaign created a service culture. Stores were shopped regularly by mystery shoppers and employees took pride in getting high scores. Every year, department managers got together to discuss customer service and trade examples of good and bad service. Trainor mentioned that in job interviews, he always asked what service meant to the interviewees. Often they were puzzled by the question, but if he asked them to give an example of “an experience so bad that you said to yourself, ‘I'm never going to go back there again’,” they got it.

    By 2013, Market Basket’s position in the Consumer Reports rating of supermarkets in the United States had risen to 6 out of 55. Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, Publix, Costco, and Sprouts Farmers Market occupied the top five spots.33

    Employee  Management

    Full-time and part-time cashiers at Market Basket started at $12/hr and $8/hr, respectively.34 Part- timers were paid time and a half on holiday and received a $0.25 increase every six months until they reached $12/hour. The company contributed between 15% and 20% of an employee’s annual pay into the profit-sharing fund. In 2009, approximately 6,600 employees were eligible and the board voted to contribute 20% of eligible wages—approximately $40 million—into the plan.35 By the end of 2014 the plan was worth more than $612 million.

    All employees, including part-timers, got several bonuses a year;  the  amount  was  determined  by Arthur T. and was based on longevity rather than on performance. Ron Lambert explained this as an expression of how hard everyone worked:  “Should the guy who runs the Chelsea  store,  which  is Market Basket’s largest, get more than the guy that runs a smaller store like Revere? No. We all get the same one. And the only difference in the money is probably longevity with the company.” Arthur

    T. felt strongly about recognizing Market Basket employees for their hard work. In a 2009 board meeting, he explained why he was going to give employees a $20 million to $40 million “extraordinary”  bonus:

    Looking at the overall work force of this company and how well they’re doing and how well we’re producing and how well we’re sticking together like glue and pulling the ship in the right direction and the results they’re getting both last year and the year that we have coming up, what we have just  completed and what  we have on the drawing board… So this is a  performance incentive. It’s nothing that’s expected, nothing that’s anticipated. But when you run a company, you’ve got to have the right chemistry and the pulse of the people and what turns people on . . .36

    The company relied heavily on part-time help and, in fact, nearly all full-time employees began as part-timers who had to “earn” their way to full-time work. Part-timers included students, parents who needed to be home in the afternoon, retirees, disabled persons and people who had other full-time jobs but needed extra  income. The  company believed  in being flexible with schedules.  If  a high- school student played football, for example, he would get a shift that did not conflict with practice or games.

    Market Basket expected a lot from its employees. Poor performers were either let go or left voluntarily, but layoffs were unheard of. Lambert stated: “My brother goes to work every week and he’s got to look behind his paycheck to see if he has a pink slip. That’s not the case here. . . . I don’t worry about where my next paycheck is coming from. That’s job security. That means a lot to a person. It enables you to sleep at night.”

    More often and whenever possible, the company promoted from within. “There’s nobody who has not worked their way up,” explained Rosie Hagopian. Most Market Basket managers started there in high school. As a result, employees felt a sense of ownership. “We all feel like we’ve helped build this company,” remarked Linda Kulis, an accounts receivable supervisor who had been with the company for 34 years. Turnover was very low: 5% a year for full-time store-based employees and 10% for part-timers. The average tenure of store directors was 34 years.

    Market Basket believed that experienced employees served customers better and worked  more quickly. Observing a long checkout line in a newly opened store, Lambert noted that the cashiers were only scanning 16 items a minute, whereas in the Wilmington, Massachusetts store, which had been open for more than 50 years, the cashiers could scan 30 items a minute and—with the same number of customers and cashiers—there would be no line.

    The company worked to have internal successors in place for important positions. For example, they were grooming one of the meat supervisors to be a meat buyer. He had started as a part-timer, and then became a meat-cutter and then a meat department manager. In 2014, he was shadowing the meat buyer, sitting in on meetings with suppliers and learning about pricing and buying.

    Market Basket relied heavily on hands-on, in-store training on how to use equipment, restock shelves, and serve customers. This included productivity tips such as stocking with both hands. Before a new store opened, employees would spend up to six weeks shadowing the best employees in established stores, even if it cost extra to make that happen. For example, when Market Basket was preparing to open its Brockton store, it bused a few hundred new employees some 30 miles up to its Chelsea store and back every day for six weeks. A new store typically lost about 10% of its new hires between the start of training and the opening.

    Store employees were expected to multitask. “I don’t just hire people to wrap cheese,”  Lambert explained. “He’s going to look over here and there and in front. Do they need help bagging? Are there carriages that need to be taken in?” Apart from serving customers,  employees  had  to  pay  close attention to managing products. They replenished the shelves throughout the day and, in sections like dairy, they rotated products multiple times a day to ensure that those that were closest to expiration were placed where customers were more likely to pick them up.

    New hires also went through an orientation during which store directors explained their expectations about showing up for work on time, being polite to customers and to each other, not using cell phones on the job, and honoring the dress code: white shirts (with ties for men) and the blue Market Basket apron. Jeans, sweatpants, sneakers, work boots, and visible body piercings and  tattoos  were  not allowed. Neither was long hair on men. Everyone had to wear a name tag showing his or her years of service, a detail added in 2010 to show customers the loyalty of Market Basket employees.

    Because so many employees were local, a typical store had employees who had grown up together; many were related. As Ron Lambert noted: “When I started working part time as a bagger, it was the place to be. It was all neighborhood boys. We had a great time.” Linda Kulis was one of many who met their spouses at Market Basket. “My sister met her husband at Market Basket,” she added. “My brother-in-law is a store manager. My kids work here. It’s just an extension of the family.
    Supplier Relations

    Market Basket often used local vendors and, when in season, many fruits, vegetables, and flowers came from New England farms. Many vendors had been working with Market Basket for a long time, visited headquarters regularly, and had strong personal relationships with the buyers and also others. “Many vendors have been coming to Market Basket for 20 to 30 plus years,” said Diane Belanger, an administrative assistant for the deli buying department and who had worked for Market Basket for 37 years. “They’re like our family.” Some vendors had been Market Basket employees themselves and some were relatives of the Demoulas family. For example, Arthur T.’s brother-in-law was one of the two  directors  registered  with  Phoenix  Foods,  a  food  broker  that  supplied Market  Basket  with groceries and private-label items, like household goods, paper products, cereal and pasta.3738

    Market Basket had a reputation for taking care of its suppliers. If a supplier’s salesperson was below a sales quota, Market Basket buyers would give him or her extra displays in the store. It wasn’t unusual for Market Basket employees to help drivers—often independent contractors whose  income  was directly related to how many deliveries they could make in a day—unload and shelve. Trainor said, “They pull up to our dock. They don't have to have an appointment. We get them in an out as quickly as we can. These guys are like, ‘Wow. This is incredible. I've never been treated like this.’”

    Jim Fantini, VP of marketing at bakery supplier Flowers Foods—whose only account was Market Basket and whose father, Bob Fantini, had also been a Market Basket supplier—explained: “There’s a privilege of having an inside relationship with Market Basket. The message the company sends its suppliers is along the lines of ‘We can move a lot of product for you. We can have a great relationship so long as you always have the interests of our customers first and foremost in all of your dealings with us.’” Vendors that didn’t perform suffered the consequences. Trainor  explained  that  after  a national beverage vendor did not respond to the store’s request to keep the back room neat, Market Basket took down the vendor’s display at the grand opening of a new  store.  (The  relationship improved after that.)

    Market Basket was known to negotiate hard to keep prices low for customers. As Trainor pointed out, “We expect our suppliers to take as good of care of us [their customer] as we do our customers.”

    Culture and Speed of Decision Making

    The chain’s fast-paced operating environment required employees and vendors alike to be nimble. “We pride ourselves on doing things rapidly,” Trainor explained. “We call it a sense of urgency. If it needs to be done, it should have been done yesterday.”

    A telling point: The company had no voicemail system. Any customer who called got a live human being and would have his or her question answered or problem resolved quickly.

    Because each department in each store ordered its own inventory from the distribution centers and worked closely with buyers, it could adapt to customers’ needs. For example, eggnog was normally carried only in the Christmas and New Year’s season. But at one store, a customer with a severely handicapped son whose diet consisted largely of high-fat liquids asked the dairy manager if he could carry eggnog year-round. The dairy manager worked with the dairy buyer to get the customer a case of eggnog every month.

    Stores could also act quickly when demand for a perishable product was lower than expected and the product was getting close to its expiration date. Department managers would talk to their department supervisor or buyer and then mark the product down to sell it before expiration.

    Fantini liked not having a lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through: “Market Basket is a $4.6 billion company that acts like a corner store in the way they push things out to the market.”

    I went to the Market Basket buyers early one morning and said, ‘We [Market Basket] don’t have any private-label snack cakes and Flowers Foods has a bakery that makes snack cakes for private labels. Why don’t we explore some private-label snack cakes?’  With  the  Hostess  brands  in turmoil they saw the potential need in the marketplace and said, ‘Sure. Do it.’ Over the next two months, we created designs for the packaging and held tastings. Within three months, we had launched a whole line of products. In other accounts, you’ll deal with the buyer and the buyer takes your idea into advisement and then he will speak with his category manager  or  the supervisor above him and he will have to push it up to corporate. They will look at the metrics of it all and figure out the payout and then try and make a decision.

    Management made a point of getting to know employees, from shelf-stockers to truck drivers. Linda Kulis was one of many to recall an act of kindness at a crucial moment:

    My mother passed away three years age.  I’m  in  Dress  Barn  with  my  sister  trying  to  find  a dress. And my cell phone rings, “Hi, Linda. It’s Artie. I’m like, ‘Mr. Demoulas?’  He said, ‘Yes it’s Artie. I’m going out of town, but I heard about your mother.  I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I can’t be there.’ I’m crying in Dress Barn. Who does that? And that’s Mr. Demoulas—he’s got a company to run…but he’s apologizing to me because he can’t  be  at  my  mother’s  wake  and funeral.

    Ron Lambert summed up Market Basket’s culture:

    We provide clean stores, good people, and a good culture. People come in, they get taken care of, and they keep coming and they keep coming and they keep coming. And that’s what makes us work so hard,  from the truck drivers to the suppliers to the warehouse  personnel  to  our  kids stocking shelves.
    Shareholders and Corporate Governance

    Market Basket was registered as a Subchapter S corporation. As a result, the shareholders, not the company, had to pay taxes every year on any profits.39 The company had only nine shareholders, all members of the Demoulas family: Arthur T. and his three sisters; Arthur S. and his two sisters; and his brother’s widow, Rafaele, and her daughter. The shareholders appointed members of the seven-

    person board of directors. Arthur T.’s side of the family chose two directors, two were chosen by Arthur S.’s side, and three were chosen by majority shareholder vote. Until 2013, Rafaele participated in a voting alliance with Arthur T., which allowed him to control the board and grow the company.

    Some shareholders had opposed Arthur T.’s management practices, accusing him of taking advantage of having almost no oversight—spending too much of the shareholders’ money on capital costs and entering into improper business deals with  companies  owned  by  his  wife  and  brothers-in-law.  In 2010, after an 18-month investigation, the retired superior court judge the board hired to review the related-party transactions rejected the claim of  impropriety.40  (See  Exhibit  8  for  a  sample  list  of stores opened between the time Arthur T. took over as CEO and late 2014; see Exhibit 9 for an exchange between Arthur T. and board member Nabil El-Hage on related-party transactions.)

    Minutes of board meetings show Arthur T.’s unapologetic resistance to board oversight of  his spending decisions and potential conflicts of interest and self dealing.41 In  a  November  5,  2009 meeting, for example, the discussion turned to the $20-40 million bonus Arthur T. intended to pay out to employees, whether or not he should have let the board know in advance, and whether or not he should have sought the board’s approval. Arthur T. responded bluntly to Arthur S.’s questions: “My management style, okay, is to do what’s in the best interests of DeMoulas Super Markets . . . not to come back to this board to request and ask for permission.”

    The management of the company’s profit-sharing plan was also a source of contention. In 2008, $46 million of the plan was invested in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. When that investment resulted in a loss during the 2008 stock market crash, the board, which Arthur T. controlled, voted five-to-two to use the company’s cash to fully reimburse the profit-sharing plan.42

    Unhappy with Arthur T.’s management style and wanting liquidity, in 2010, Arthur S. and his sisters offered to sell their 36% minority stake, but the board voted against buying it.43  When they attempted to sell their stake to a third party, Arthur T. asked the courts for a declaration that would prohibit this action on the grounds that it would imperil the company’s Subchapter S status. However, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge concluded in 2013 that Arthur S.’s side could sell its stake to third parties, even if that caused the corporation to lose its favorable tax status.44

    The Firing of Arthur T.

    When Rafaele switched sides on the board, Arthur S.’s side of the family gained control. On July 18, 2013, the new board met to consider the “Motion for the removal of the President.” By then it was evident that a decision to oust him would anger employees. In the weeks leading up to that meeting, nearly every store director wrote to the board that firing Arthur T. would “cause significant damage to this company.”45 Supplier Jim Fantini started an online petition supporting Arthur T., saying that his removal would sacrifice customers and employees for higher prices and profit margins. Meanwhile, over a thousand Arthur T. supporters stood outside the building where the meeting was being held with signs saying “Save Market Basket.”

    While Arthur T. was not fired that day, the board suspended his authority—including paying contractors working on the construction of new stores—or to make other day-to-day decisions.46 At the board’s next meeting a few weeks later, it voted to distribute a one-time shareholder dividend of $300 million (amounting to 60% of the company’s excess cash), establish a line of credit, and hire an executive search firm to help identify and develop additional executive talent for long-term planning purposes.47 Arthur T. was against the distribution, appealing unsuccessfully to the courts to block it, claiming that the decision was not made by a required independent and disinterested board and it was of such a magnitude that “it will change the enormously successful business model that the company was built on and has been operating under for the last fifty years.”48

    At the beginning of 2014, Arthur T. made a move that was hardly designed to mollify the board and shareholders. Market Basket announced that, to help customers, it would reduce the prices of all items by an additional 4% until the end of the year.49 This was expected to cost the company $170 million.50

    On Monday, June 23, 2014, the board fired Arthur T. and named Felicia Thornton, former CFO of Albertsons, and James F. Gooch, former president of Radio Shack, as interim co-CEOs. The board explained that “[t]he new management team will enable Market Basket to maximize its potential and pave the way for continued success in the future.” One industry analyst believed that these changes would be “the best thing for the business both this year and for the rest of this current decade and the decades ahead.”51

    At the same time, the board fired two other senior executives—vice president of operations William Marsden, who had been with the company for 55 years, and vice president Joseph Rockwell, a 48- year veteran—by email.52 Over the following 24 hours, executive vice president Jim Miamis, who had worked for the company for more than 60 years, and operations director Dave McLean, with 38 years, quit. Many others with decades of experience also quit, including the deli director and the CFO.
    The Walkout

    On July 16, 2014 employees at company headquarters demanded in writing that Arthur T.  be reinstated and requested a response by 4:30pm the next day. Rejecting the response given the next day by the board that it would take up their demand the following Monday, the employees planned a walkout and rally for the following day.

    On July 18, three and a half weeks after Arthur T. was fired, the majority of Market Basket’s 200 front office workers, 300 warehouse associates and 65 truck  drivers walked out on their jobs and spent the next six weeks picketing in front of headquarters. This essentially shut the company down; there was no store support and deliveries to the stores from the distribution centers ground to a halt. (See Exhibit 10 for a photo.) Their demand was simple: the reinstatement of Arthur T. On the day of the walkout, the following message was posted on the “We Are Market Basket” website, which was set up to inform Market Basket employees, customers, suppliers or any interested party and allow them to share their concerns related to the firing of Arthur T.:

    What we are doing is unprecedented so therefore we have no blueprint to follow or business- school lesson to refer to. Some may think we are naive, and maybe we are. Perhaps that naiveté works in our favor as it allows us to believe that what we are doing is not only right but also achievable. We hope to become the precedent, the blueprint and the business-school lesson.

    The board’s immediate response was to fire eight Market Basket managers—with a combined 280 years of company experience53—who were believed to be the leaders of the protest. In total between those fired and those that resigned there were 18 executives and senior managers with a combined experience of 702 years.

    While all Market Basket stores remained open, store employees joined in on the protest. They began picketing on their own time—often in front of the store where they worked—and encouraged others to protest and boycott the business. A sign on the front window of a Market Basket in Maine said: “Help us. Boycott us.”54 At one store, employees gave out the GPS coordinates of the nearest Stop & Shop.55  On some days, some Market Basket stores attracted thousands of protestors.

    Employees organized an online fundraiser to help warehouse workers and drivers  affected  by  the boycott. Three weeks into the protest, they had raised $93,000 from  over  1,500  donors.56  Some vendors, including Boston Sword and Tuna, opted to stop doing business with Market Basket. Others were at risk of going out of business. As a manager at food broker Phoenix Foods said, “We are essentially out of business until they’re back in business.”57

    Although the new co-CEOs announced no major changes would be made to the business model, employees feared that without Arthur T. at the helm, the company would be sold,  whereupon customers would face higher prices and employees would face lower salaries, reduced benefits, and the loss of a very special place to work.

    Customers, too, showed their allegiance by shopping elsewhere, leaving evidence of their defection by taping receipts from competitors on the windows of Market Basket stores. As one customer said, “We are going to go somewhere else from now on. I’m sad about it because of course I want to keep the low prices, but I want to support the workers.”58  One customer began a gofundme fundraising campaign to purchase ads in local papers encouraging readers to boycott. Within four hours, that campaign raised $9,000 from 400 contributors.59 Linda Kulis was in the hair salon when a woman, realizing that Linda worked for Market Basket, gave her a charm for a bracelet: “And she's like, I want you to have this. I'm following the story.”

    The protest also gained the attention and support  of  outside  observers.  The  1.3-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union voiced its support for Market Basket’s non-unionized employees.60  Local businesses supported the protestors with free food and discounts

    for services. U.S. Representative Niki Tsongas from Lowell, where Market Basket was born and had served the community for decades, wrote to the board asking it to reinstate Arthur T. New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick also expressed concern.

    Traditional and social media quickly become invested in what was going on. Boston-area newspapers and television and radio news provided daily updates on the protest, as did protestors and outside observers who used Facebook and Twitter to disseminate their messages.

    Side Effects

    Less than two weeks into the protest, Market Basket’s sales were down more than 90%.61 All part- time employees had been let go. Full-time store employees spent their working hours cleaning, organizing, and painting. In addition, some Market Basket employees did not join the protest and some reported being harassed for it.62
    The protest took its toll on customers, vendors, and other local businesses. Deliveries from direct to store delivery suppliers plummeted and drivers who did show up were often turned away. Where a customer expected to find food, he or she instead might find a poster of Arthur T. Demoulas. Local vendors, particularly farmers, were hit hard financially and scrambled to sell inventory intended for Market Basket, often at reduced prices. As the founder of Pleasant Valley Gardens and president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation noted, “One of the things [Market Basket] did well was they made an effort to buy as much locally grown product as they could. So when this happened, it wasn’t hurting a California grower who maybe sold to 20 grocers. You’re talking about businesses around here and Market Basket is a big enough player that they’re really hurt.”63  Boston Sword and Tuna, which supplied Market Basket with 55,000 pounds of seafood products per week,  began suffering huge losses after warehouse workers refused to accept deliveries.64

    Business located near Market Basket stores also felt the  effects.  Aubuchon  Hardware,  next  to  a Market Basket in Warner, New Hampshire, experienced a 30% drop in sales, forcing its manager to lay off two people and cut hours.65

    Down the street, across town, or one town over, Market Basket competitors—including Hannaford’s, Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Walmart, and Whole Foods—were benefiting from the walkout. Some competitors admitted to struggling to keep inventory on the shelves because of increased volume.

    Meanwhile, Thornton and Gooch were trying to run a company without  its  seasoned  managers. Starting in early August, they began giving employees ultimatums to get back to work or risk being fired. Two deadlines came and went, with workers refusing to give in unless Arthur T. was reinstated with full decision-making rights. Thornton and Gooch also held a job fair to hire replacement workers—including store directors and grocery buyers—but these were sparsely attended.
    Back to Business?

    On August 27, the Market Basket board of  directors  and  shareholders  reached  an  agreement  for Arthur T. and his family to purchase 50.5% of the company for $1.6 billion from Arthur S.’s side of the family. As part of the agreement, Arthur T. was reinstated with his management team to run the company with full operational authority during the transition period, and the two CEOs would stay on in a monitoring capacity and report to the board during this time.

    Within hours, the employee website, “We Are Market Basket,” posted a victory message:

    The  STAKEHOLDERS  have  helped  to  Save  Market  Basket  and  in  doing  so,  we  have  made history.  Associates,  vendors  and  most  importantly,  CUSTOMERS  carried  the  banner  for  a company that is so much more than simply a company, but is rather an integral piece of every community it serves. Tonight we raise a glass to Artie T and each other as we have achieved the most improbable of upsets. Tomorrow we go to work and never, in the history of people going to work, will so many people be so happy to punch the clock.66

    Getting the business back up and running at full capacity, while laborious, took only weeks. Vendors and customers alike flocked back to the chain they had fought for. In fact, Market Basket experienced a bump in sales volume as curious shoppers who had never set foot in a Market Basket wanted to see what all the fuss had been about.

    Operationally, the company was humming along, but there was a large elephant in the room: the debt the company had taken on to buy out Arthur S.’s side of the family. Arthur T. was able to secure a $1 billion mortgage loan backed by Market Basket’s real estate holdings and underwritten by Morgan Stanley and the New York Life Insurance Company. Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and KeyBank also syndicated a combined $600 million. The same week that the deal closed, Market Basket employees received $49 million in bonuses, up from $44 million in 2013.67

    The debt did not seem to color employees’ opinions of their company’s future. Tom Trainor explained: “We’ve all taken on that debt ourselves. We’re going to do whatever it takes to cut costs. Any little bit we can find to save the company money, we’re going to take on that burden ourselves. We want this business model to be a success.” From her vantage point, shaped by more than four decades with Market Basket, Rosie Hagopian also had no doubt that the company and all that made it a special place to work would remain intact: “We’re very close. We protect each other. We take care of each other. Nobody’s going to break us apart. It’s not going to happen.”

    But many observers wondered: Could Market Basket keep offering low prices to customers and high wages and generous retirement benefits to employees? Could it keep growing? Had the protest, which ultimately saddled the company with a $1.6 billion debt, been worth it?
  • 27 Jul 2015 8:20 AM | Mike Lillich (Administrator)

    The New York Times reports that Arvid Anderson, one of the nicest, most competent, highly respected, and modest professionals in our field of labor relations died on July 22 at age 94.


    I learned from Arvid first-hand many times but most directly when we taught a dispute resolution course together at Cornell and he helped me turn a complicated and controversial report on a New York State arbitration study into readable and acceptable prose.  And he did this all in the background, demonstrating to me firsthand the characteristics a preeminent professional neutral.


    Arvid Anderson was one of those giants who made our post World War II system of collective bargaining work through good and bad financial times and through multiple changes in political regimes in state and municipal government.  With degrees from the University of Wisconsin in labor economics and law, he stands as another in a long list of distinguished graduates who built on the University’s tradition of public service best epitomized in “The Wisconsin Idea.” 


    He helped build and chaired the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in the early days of public sector collective bargaining.  His quiet demeanor and creative approach to resolving impasses got the attention of labor relations professionals in New York and they recruited him to be the Chair of a new institution charged with mediating and later arbitrating municipal labor disputes—the Office of Collective Bargaining.  The mere fact that, as he stated he “survived” in this role from 1968 until he decided to retire in 1987 speaks for itself.  Without a doubt this was the most visible and politically complex neutral role in public sector labor relations in the country.  


    My biggest debt to Arvid came in early 1977 in that wonderful co-teaching experience that coincided with a time I was drafting a final report for New York state officials and labor leaders on our study of an experimental arbitration statute. This report would be my introduction into the world of controversial policy analysis and Arvid understood how it would be received and how inexperienced I was as drafting a document that would be so highly scrutinized.   Each week when Arvid flew up to Ithaca from New York for class I would give him a draft of some section of the report.  The next week he would return with it in hand, with penciled changes, “just suggestions” as he would always say.   None of his edits changed the content or substance of our findings or recommendations but as he would say:  “if you phrase them this way they might be more acceptable.”  This was the Arvid Anderson the mentor, teacher, and friend.


    Let’s hope we can someday return to a labor relations environment that appreciates the value of neutrals with as much integrity, skill, and human decency as Arvid Anderson.

  • 11 Jul 2015 6:37 AM | Mike Lillich (Administrator)

    By Thomas A. Kochan

    Late last month, President Barack Obama took a step around the longstanding congressional gridlock over labor and employment policies by announcing a plan to boost the salary threshold governing overtime from US$23,600 to $50,440 and to index it to inflation.

    Essentially, that means white collar workers in that salary range, currently exempt from being paid overtime, would get 1.5 times their hourly wages for anything over 40 hours.

    The administration estimates this action will extend coverage to an additional five million workers who will either receive overtime pay or work fewer hours at the same salary, with some of their extra work shifted to part- or full-time hourly workers. Either way, the workforce and the economy will record a small win in efforts to raise wages and reduce income inequality.

    I’ve been immersed in this issue for decades, including as a member of the Clinton administration’s Commission on the Future of Worker Management Relations in the early ‘90s and as codirector of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.

    This experience has convinced me that the president’s plan should be just one in a series of executive actions that he, and the person who succeeds him, should take if Congress continues to be incapable of updating our employment policies to catch up with changes in the economy, workforce and the way people work today.

    Blurred lines

    The new overtime rules are long overdue. As far back as 1994, those of us on former President Bill Clinton’s Commission on the Future of Worker Management Relationsrecognized that the salary threshold and other rules governing who was covered and who was exempt from overtime were outdated, overly complex and no longer reflected how work is done in many organizations.

    Those rules were drawn up in an industrial era when prevailing management principles called for a clear separation of management from hourly employees.

    But by the 1990s, the line separating salaried managers who are “exempt” from overtime rules and hourly workers who are covered had become increasingly blurred as tasks previously limited to management were being done by lower-level employees. By then it was common to find low-level managers working side by side or in teams with hourly workers in serving customers, ordering and restocking inventories, and mentoring newcomers – tasks that in the past were viewed as “management” responsibilities.

    We favored having Congress simplify the rules and set a higher threshold. But unfortunately, by the time our commission wrote its final report and recommendations in January 1995, the Gingrich revolution had gained control of Congress, and we recognized there was no hope of legislative action on these or any other labor policy issues. So we called for a series of regulatory reforms led by the president and the Labor Department.

    Since then, congressional gridlock not only remains, it has gotten worse.

    The real value of the minimum wage, for example, currently $7.25 nationally, has shrunk by 47% since 1968. And there’s little hope that Congress might follow the sensible lead of states and cities that have heeded the broad public support for an increase.

    Our 1935 labor law is “ossified” and fails to provide workers who want collective bargaining to get through the legal hurdles that block access to it.

    Congress has not passed a significant new law nor updated any of the nation’s New Deal vintage labor or employment laws in decades. Given this sustained congressional gridlock, the president and secretary of labor can only search for tools that might make a difference.

    The salary threshold is one rule that can be changed by executive action, albeit a slow process. It took nearly a year for the Department of Labor to develop the new overtime rules, and the proposed changes still need to go through a process of public comment and likely will be further delayed by legal challenges.

    What the president could do next

    What other actions could be taken while Congress remains paralyzed? For starters, the president could call for an overhaul of the criteria the government considers when qualifying contractors bid for government business.

    As an example of the magnitude of the problem, The New York Times reported in 2013 that the federal government is one of the largest purchasers of goods such as Marine Corps uniforms from overseas sweatshops that employ child labor.

    President Lyndon B Johnson used this approach to good avail by requiring government contractors to take affirmative action to monitor and enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    Two steps could be taken now to strengthen bidding processes that would help upgrade employment standards, boost wages and support movement to a high-productivity, high-wage economy.

    First, contractors could be required to provide evidence certifying they are in compliance with all existing labor and employment laws. Knowing firms' compliance records on safety and health, wage and hours worked, labor relations, and equal employment opportunity laws would help regulators better target their enforcement efforts on the serial violators and allow consumers to reward good and avoid bad employers.

    Second, criteria could be added to the bidding process to reward employers that have in place employment practices that invest in training, engage employees in organizational improvement projects and promote teamwork – all practices that research has demonstrated contribute to improving productivity, and support good jobs and fair wages.

    Solving the contractor dilemma

    Growth in the on-demand economy and whether its workers are employees or contractors is another example of outdated labor laws that deserve updating.

    There is a growing business practice of hiring workers as contractors rather than standard employees to skirt obligations to pay social security and comply with other employment laws. A simplification and tightening of the rules governing who is an employee and who is a contractor would help resolve this problem.

    Drivers at Federal Express and Uber, for example, are currently embroiled in exactly this legal battle. The quagmire of 20 or so factors that regulatory agencies and the courts now use to decide this issue may provide a full employment opportunity for lawyers but pose high hurdles for enforcement agencies and for workers who believe they are misclassified.

    Obviously, executive actions are only stopgaps, partial and very time-consuming steps toward the fundamental reforms and updating needed in employment and labor policies. Eventually the American public needs to change the makeup of Congress and elect a president able to break the political gridlock.

    But until that day comes, executive action is the best alternative route available in Washington for getting the American workforce where it needs to go.

  • 26 Mar 2015 12:41 PM | Thomas Kochan

    As some of you know, I will be offering a new MIT “MOOC” online course starting in mid-March that focuses on what we need to do to support the next generation’s efforts to secure their version of the “American Dream.” 


    I wonder if you might pass on the link below to anyone who might have an interest in taking the course.  It describes the course via a video and written summary and has information on how to sign up for it.   The course is free and open to anyone interested.  I hope we get a good mix of young people—the next generation workforce—and more experienced workers and leaders who share a concern for these issues and for the legacy we might otherwise leave if we don’t take actions now.



    Still time to sign up! Click HERE!

    So please pass it on to your students, to other members of your local LERA Chapter, and consider signing up for the course yourself!


    The course has a large number of videos, short readings (excerpted  and cut up from the draft text I’ve been working on), and lots of supplemental materials.  It will also have a very individually focused track that we call the  “Personal Development Corner” that will guide young people through a career development planning process.  Then we’ll end with a grand “Next Generation Social Contract” negotiation exercise to see if our students—divided into the roles of the next generation workforce representatives, business leaders, government officials, and educators—can agree on terms of a new and more up-to-date set of employment terms that work for all the parties concerned.


    The first week of the course will feature an interview with our Secretary of Labor Tom Perez with his message of hope and advice to the next generation.  Then we define what we mean by the term social contract, we review the history of work (with a spiffy 3 minute animation), and we then focus on recent and current innovations at local levels—government, leading firms, and emerging forms of worker advocacy. 


    As a parallel effort, I’ve developed a new website that has more materials relevant to these issues.  You can find it at


    So, this will be an adventure and an experiment.  I hope it works and makes a difference. 


    Please pass this on to anyone or to any groups in your network you think might be interested.


    All the best,



  • 13 Nov 2014 10:06 AM | Mike Lillich (Administrator)

  • 05 Aug 2014 12:31 PM | Thomas Kochan

    The Market Basket conflict, now in its third week, is escalating to a dangerous point. The rallies, though peaceful, are getting bigger and more boisterous. Tensions are building among vendors. Based on what happens in other labor conflicts, we can be sure that nerves are fraying and anxieties mounting within the 25,000 families whose jobs may now be at risk and who are not getting a badly needed paycheck.

    The independent members of the board of directors have a responsibility to act, not in the interests of one or another faction of the Demoulas family, but in the best interests of the company. It is time for them to do their job. If the owners don’t accept their decision, they should resign.

    Apparently, even within the fractious Demoulas family, new disagreements are surfacing. One cousin has even suggested that it is time to bring back Arthur T.  Clearly, family members have both a financial and a reputational interest in getting this resolved. Nothing less than the family name and legacy are at stake. For generations, the Demoulas name has signified quality at prices that working families could afford. The supermarket chain’s loyal customer base is not the least of what it stands to lose.

    It is time for sensible heads on the board of directors to take the only action that will bring back customers, save the business and associates’ jobs, and, most of all, avoid further escalation that could result in long-lasting damage to the communities involved.

    The path to resolution is clear. Many voices, including my own, have outlined it. The board of directors should accept Arthur T. Demoulas’s proposal to have him and his team lead the process of bringing employees and customers back starting now, while due diligence and negotiations on his buyout offer proceed.

    The independent members of the board of directors have a responsibility to act, not in the interests of one or another faction of the Demoulas family, but in the best interests of the company. It is time for them to do their job. If the owners don’t accept their decision, they should resign.

    It is also time for leaders across New England to use their good offices to get this conflict resolved. It has gone beyond the point of a private family feud or even a parent company-employee dispute. It has and will affect the welfare, perhaps even the safety, of our communities.

    It is also time for leaders across New England to use their good offices to get this conflict resolved. It has gone beyond the point of a private family feud or even a parent company-employee dispute. It has and will affect the welfare, perhaps even the safety, of our communities. It would not be unprecedented, for example, for these protests to veer suddenly and violently out of control. Another kind of safety, food security, also hangs in the balance, especially in those communities where Market Basket is the only affordable option for families undefined if not the only option. So let’s all bring our voices to bear on the parties by saying enough is enough.

    End this impasse now, in the only viable way possible in the interests of the owners, employees, customers, vendors and communities at large. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

  • 29 Jul 2014 10:01 AM | Thomas Kochan

    The amazing Market Basket saga continues.

    Article on the PBS website with Editor's Update: © 1996 - 2014 NewsHour Productions LLC.
    All Rights Reserved.

    For the past week and a half, New England has been watching, supporting, and in some cases, joining a broad cross-section of Market Basket warehouse and clerical employees, supervisors and managers protesting the firing of their CEO Arthur T. Demoulas in an effort by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas to generate more short-term returns for the family owners.

    While the stores remain open, little if any fresh produce or meat products have been delivered and other inventories have gradually been depleted. The broad-base of customer and public support these actions have generated suggests the only way to restore the business, its value to the owners, and the jobs at stake is to regain the respect and support of the workforce.

    There may be a way forward that resolves these difficulties and returns Market Basket to the marketplace sooner rather than later, but it will require a change in approach by both the company’s board of directors and the protesting employees.

    A much-anticipated board of directors meeting took place on Friday, July 25, in downtown Boston to explore the options. The meeting yielded five results.

    First, in a statement issued immediately after its meeting, the board of directors publicly admitted for the first time that the company was indeed, as the protestors had suspected, for sale. The investment banking arm of J.P. Morgan Chase is now and has been for some time orchestrating a sale process for the Market Basket Board of Directors that involves more than one bidder, and which remains open.

    Second, the protesting employees, now joined by thousands of customers and community supporters, learned that a bid announced on July 22 undefined three days prior to the board meeting undefined by the deposed CEO Arthur T., the family member they support, is now among the bids under consideration.

    Third, the board affirmed the continued employment of besieged co-CEO’s Felicia Thorton and James Gooch, who were hired only in June.

    Fourth, the board chastised protesting employees by stating:

    The negative behavior of certain current and former associates is at variance with the Company’s culture of putting the needs of the Market Basket customers first. It is now clear that it is in the interests of all members of the Market Basket community for normal business operations to resume immediately.

    A fifth statement, issued hours after the board had formally adjourned, from the public relations firm O’Neill & Associates reversed that critical tone, showing more empathy for the dissenting employees:

    The past month has been trying. We appreciate the strain this change of leadership has placed on our associates. We welcome back associates who are committed to Market Basket’s customers. There will be no penalty or discipline for any associate who joins in what will be a significant effort to return to the unparalleled level of performance and customer service that have been hallmarks of the Market Basket brand. There will be no change to Market Basket’s unmatched compensation and benefits.

    The empathic tone of this final communication was immediately challenged by the protesting group on its informal social media news source, a Facebook page called Save Market Basket. After invoking the legendary protest song of Johnny Paycheck, stating that the board should “Take your amnesty and …”, protestors pointed out the contradiction between this message and prior threats of permanently replacing protesting employees. With calls for unity ringing throughout the employee group, it remains to be seen how or whether the late amendment to the board’s message will achieve its desired result of returning to the status quo. That seems unlikely.

    Instead, in the wake of these board actions and continuing protests, Market Basket owners and employees remain in a downward spiral that, if not reversed quickly, can only end in substantial reduction in the value, if not total liquidation, of the owners’ assets and loss of many, if not all, of the employees’ jobs.

    Changing course requires a near term solution undefined a cease fire of sorts undefined that brings customers back, and includes a credible and clear process for addressing the core interests of the owners and employees and sustaining the business for the long run.

    A suggested path for doing so is outlined below, but first, let’s identify the short and longer term interests of the parties that any plan must address.

    Employees want Arthur T. back in charge because he has led the company in ways that built loyalty with both employees and customers.

    Employees also want the executives who were fired to be reinstated.

    As is now evident through their admission of a desire to sell, the Arthur S. faction of the family is apparently seeking higher and more immediate financial returns. They thought they could obtain these by gaining control of the board and hiring new co-CEOs, but this approach clearly is not working. The value of their equity has fallen dramatically and will continue to fall further if they stick with this strategy.

    Since the only way to restore the value of their shares is to bring customers back to the stores, and the only way to do this is to get employees to urge customers to come back, reestablishing employee trust and commitment is essential to their financial interests.

    Here are steps that would meet these core interests.

    1. Employees announce they will go to work immediately rebuilding stocks and urge customers to return as soon as the stores are adequately stocked and staffed.
    2. Arthur T. Demoulas and the managers who were fired for protesting should be rehired by the board of directors, perhaps on a contract or consulting basis, to focus on coaching the business back to normality as a sale process proceeds.
    3. The sale process should proceed in two stages and be led exclusively by the independent members of the Market Basket Board of Directors. In a first stage, lasting no more than three months, the board should agree to negotiate exclusively with Arthur T. Demoulas. If, after that period of time, a sale is not agreed to, the board can, at its own risk, return to the general market of bidders.
    4. In order to expedite the process and provide the Arthur S. faction with a price that compensates shareholders in the general economic neighborhood they anticipated before the crisis, the Arthur T. offer should be established at a price that independent auditors judge to be the value of the company before this collective action began on, say July 1, 2014.
    5. New ownership options that the Arthur T. group might consider should include:
      • Sole ownership by Arthur T.
      • Ownership by Arthur T. supplemented by a partial employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that shares ownership between the employees and Arthur T., while also providing him with an exit strategy to sell a full ESOP down the road. (Some of the largest and most successful ESOP chains in the United States are grocery stores.)
      • Ownership by Arthur T., in partnership with a conventional private equity investor group committed to a business strategy and governance process built around high levels of employee commitment, productivity and customer service.
    6. A business partnership council, which would include a cross section of employees, managers, board members, the fired executives and Arthur T., should be established to oversee operations and rebuild employee and customer loyalty throughout the transition.

    How does this plan meet the short and long term criteria for success?

    1. It ends the downward spiral and brings customers back as quickly as possible because employees publicly urge them to resume their former buying habits. Indeed, the positive publicity from employees returning to rebuild the business would likely generate many new customers, and so the anticipated surge of business would need to be built into the “reopening” strategy.
    2. Agreeing to a buyout of current owners at a price set equal to the value of the firm prior to the protests provides those shareholders looking for greater short-term returns a price well above the current value of the company and the even lower value (possibly zero) that will result if the downward spiral is not stopped and not quickly reversed.
    3. Employees gain a voice both in the transition, via the business council, and Arthur T., and the executives who were fired have a short-term role in rebuilding the business and employment. Whether Arthur T. and the other executives return to their former positions once the restructured company is established would be determined by both their preferences and the decision of the new management. The same is true of the current co-chief executives.
    4. Customers gain from both the short-run steps to restock the stores and from continuation of the store’s competitive strategy, which emphasizes low prices and high quality customer service.

    The Market Basket drama is beginning to attract a national audience. It is a refreshing and welcome story that breaks down many of the stale caricatures describing labor and management in the American workplace. Market Basket employees have asserted an implicit right of “ownership” of what they believe to be their company. Whether that psychological ownership can be at least partially realized through legal ownership is up to insiders to determine.

    Whatever the result, it is important not to deny what is new here: a brave assertion by thousands of people, with much at risk, to protect their livelihoods and to demand leadership they can trust. At the end of the day, that message should be responded to affirmatively by the current owners of Market Basket.


    Tom Kochan


Employment Policy Research Network (A member-driven project of the Labor and Employment Relations Association)

121 Labor and Employment Relations Bldg.


121 LER Building

504 East Armory Ave.

Champaign, IL 61820


The EPRN began with generous grants from the Rockefeller, Russell Sage, and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundations


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