What The Market Basket Protests Mean For The Future Of Labor Unions

Aug 28, 2014

This supermarket standoff has attracted national attention for its unlikely coalition of customers, workers, managers, and suppliers organizing against top executives, while traditional unions have been on the sidelines. We're looking at how these events fit into the changing landscape of organized labor, and where unions may be headed next.

Credit Joe Topichak / Flickr/CC

It is a person's moral obligation and sole responsibility to protect a culture that provides an honorable and dignified place to work. - Arthur T. Demoulas, speaking to Market Basket workers Thursday

  GUESTS:

HIGHLIGHTS:

Why Market Basket employees didn’t want to unionize:

They feel they have a well-run company with management and workers on same page, and so there is no need for a union. Many of the protest organizers also don’t necessarily identify with the left. - Curt Nickisch

What Market Basket has that traditional union strikes don’t:

What the traditional union can’t provide is this sense of organizational solidarity around the mission of the business. These were managers and workers across the board ... who really were fighting to save the company and the business model, rather than fighting just for their jobs. - Tom Kochan

CEI's Aloysius Hogan on why we don’t need unions:

A good CEO who’s connected with the employees deserves the devotion of the workers. But the workers who prove that devoted and productive deserve their good pay, and above average pay. And when you have that situation, you don’t need a union. - Aloysius Hogan

Outdated labor laws:

When these laws were passed in 1935, there was a clear division between workers and managers. The best tactic for improving pay and conditions was collective bargaining, which the Wagner Act legalized. Because there are now so many more 'gray areas' in terms of employers/employees, workers/managers, part time/full time/temporary, collective bargaining isn't as strong a tool. Now, any employer who wants to beat a union can easily do so, legally or not. - Tom Kochan

The future of labor laws:

We need to "get away from ossified doctrines that reflect the industrial economy of 1930s." Because there is no longer as clear a division between workers and managers, collective bargaining doesn't work as well anymore. Instead, we need a labor law that gives the full spectrum of employees a voice. Rather than an antagonistic relationship, we should look for more cooperative way to share information about the business, and to promote continuous improvements (with the ability to  join a union for collective bargaining if really needed). -Tom Kochan

Mark MacKenzie of NH AFL-CIO on the Market Basket protests:

The amazing thing is that the protests include part and full time employees, and consumers, all exercising collective action to make this happen. It doesn’t replace unions, but it’s another opportunity. -Mark MacKenzie

Mark MacKenzie on why union membership has been falling:

The manufacturing industry that used to be so prominent in the United States has largely been outsourced. "We’ve hollowed out the core of manufacturing in this country. -Mark MacKenzie

LINKS:

  • Market Basket deal ends feud: "In a statement stripped bare of the emotion of recent days, the company said Arthur T. has been reinstated and asked employees and customers to return to stores to help get Market Basket running again."
  • Market Basket is a rare case in labor world: "Market Basket workers don’t have a union. But they achieved in three weeks what few unions have accomplished in recent years: They stood up to their multibillion-dollar employer, won local and national sympathy for their struggle, and stayed united. In one of the highest-profile worker movements in years — and in one of the most union-friendly states in the country — organized labor is on the sidelines."
  • A look at new models of worker advocacy: "Because unionization is considered an impossibility for low-wage, temporary workers, workers’ rights advocates have set about figuring out what else can be done. To date, their efforts have spawned more than 200 so-called worker centers nationwide that don’t fit the union mold, including some that are place-based and some that are devoted to specific industries. These groups—collectively known as alt-labor organizations—embrace tactics that don’t rely on compulsory membership or collective bargaining in order to win concessions from employers. In so doing, according to Rutgers University associate professor of labor studies Janice Fine, they have tried to “fill the void that was left by the decline in unions.”"

Arthur T. Demoulas' victory speech: