One supermarket proved it can provide employees with a livable wage, annual bonuses, and a retirement plan. They can beat Walmart’s prices. They can turn a profit, too. So why was its CEO just forced out?
Americans have grown to accept that corporations will invariably take advantage of their low wage workers, and executives have done nothing recently to pretend like this isn’t the case. When asked if his multinational beast would fight a federal hike in employee compensation, Walmart U.S. President Bill Simon told reporters in May, “We are not opposed to a minimum wage increase, unless it’s directed exclusively at us.” Compassionate stuff.
It’s a dangerously low bar set by the nation’s largest retailer — don’t expect your bosses to support an acceptable living wage for workers, let alone bonuses or a 401k, or even respect.
That’s why, for those viewing from afar, the story of Market Basket — a Massachusetts company currently in the throes of a corporate overhaul — must seem completely unbelievable.
Here’s the most unusual part: Protesting employees are demanding the return of their beloved CEO, ousted by a board focused solely on the bottom line. After store workers were fired for skipping shifts to rally outside Market Basket headquarters last week, their then-chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas, said in a statement, “This is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it.”
Now, after two weeks of letting produce rot and leaving shelves unstocked, the demonstrators and their growing army have won the support of everyone from disaffected shoppers to reporters all across the country.
But why does this matter to those ogling from outside New England?
Market Basket’s formula proves that executives and managers and cashiers can all profit, together. Employees get the benefits of a 15 percent profit sharing plan provided by Market Basket, while the groceries the store sells are less expensive, on average, than Walmart’s. As for the register: Market Basket rang in $4.6 billion in revenue last year, and is the 127th biggest privately owned company in America.
And it proves that none of this matters in the American economy if those at the top aren’t getting more than enough. Executive pay is the only beast America’s brand of the free market is designed to feed in 2014. CEOs made 331 times what an average worker made in 2013, and it’s clear that there will be no exceptions.
The American economy no longer exists to support a thriving middle class, or to help the weakest among us attain a livable wage for an honest day’s work. It is solely in existence to add to the pile of wealth for the unchecked at the top.
That’s why it’s gained traction in, of all places, the parking lots of a supermarket chain all throughout New England. If Arthur T. fails in his attempt to buy the company back, and the cousin who booted him sells out to a conglomerate as expected, there’s a chance this grand experiment will disappear forever. It would become a bellwether for a corporate America that has created a caste for itself, where workers can only expect to be treated fairly until the rug they have made is eventually pulled out from beneath them.