A dramatic boycott by tens of thousands of grocery store employees and their customers to preserve store traditions in New England provides the story line for the compelling new documentary We the People: The Market Basket Effect, which was screened with expert commentators this week at a special showing in Washington, DC.
The movie effectively conveyed the passion and drama of a regional battle last year that energized employees and customers of the family-run Market Basket chain in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Discussing the film’s importance Nov. 9 were New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Director Nick Buzzell, and Producer Ted Leonsis, a major high tech and entertainment executive (shown left to right).
Also speaking were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and event host Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, which described the film as a “vivid and thorough portrayal of the most memorable labor protest in recent American history.” Photos of the event are via the Facebook pages of Buzzell’s NBTV Studios.
Our report here on the film provides what we hope is an entertaining break from our normal fare, which focuses heavily on grim realities from around the world unearthed by investigative reporting. But readers interested in solving problems can learn from the reform techniques illustrated by the movie. The gist: If you care about something get involved, using one of the ways are proven effective and need not be difficult.
The Market Basket Effect sympathetically traces the early success of two immigrant brothers who started a butcher/grocery business nearly a century ago, beginning in the factory community of Lowell, northwest of Boston. The stores operated for many years under the family name DeMoulas Supermarkets.
In recent years, the family evolved the trade name to “Market Basket” and expanded to 75 locations serving some two million customers via a company valued at nearly three billion dollars.
The film portrays recent success as occurring in part from the passionate commitment by longtime CEO Arthur T. DeMoulas to his family’s tradition of good wages for employees, low prices for customers, and celebration of the grocery business as, in effect, a civic activity and not simply a business or chore.
A subtext is a the Greek-American community’s traditional expertise in food, originally developed in many small stores and restaurants, and celebrated more privately in family and church circles.
The result of the high-wage and low customer price policy? Strong worker and community loyalty.
Perhaps predictable also was that some heirs — ultimately constituting a majority of shares — resented CEO decisions that failed to keep shareholder income as high as industry norms that follow a different retail store formula, such as Walmart’s relatively low wages and benefits. In 1990, some family members also filed suit accusing the CEO of fraud.
Most of the movie vividly portrays how the vast majority of Market Basket’s 25,000 employees and then customers boycotted the stores after the board fired “Arthur T.” during the summer of 2014. This created a financial crisis for the company owners as well as a ripple effect threatening other parts of the regional business supply chain.