Exercising Labor Rights: The Writers Strike and the Market Basket Protests

While reading Cynthia Littleton’s TV on Strike: Why Hollywood went to War over the Internet I was struck by the thought that a lot of people think the strike is over and I guess in some regards it is. The actual strike is over and the writers and the board members of the guilds, but aren’t there still problems? “Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the strike’s legacy is that it is not over, not by a long shot. The walkout of 2007-8 is likely to be the first act in a high-tension drama that will play out at least through the next several rounds of WGA contract talks. ‘It happens about every 20 years’” (20).

The Writer's Strike November 20, 007

The Writers Strike November 20, 2007

The 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike started on November 5, 2007 and concluded on February 12, 2008. The strike sought increased funding for the writers in comparison to the profits of the larger studios. Negotiations ended on February 8, 2008. Although the negotiations for the 2007-2008 strike have ended. It will be interesting to see what the next twenty years will bring. I think new technology will further complicate the television and film business through the way it changes the business altogether. Negotiations may be reached in order to solve some issues, but the problem is that there are real issues and the real problems that aren’t really dealt with and that’s why the terms seem to escalate roughly every twenty years. These core issues that were dealt with in 1988 become the similar issues that are dealt with in 2007 and will be similar issues to deal with in 2027 because the reality is that technology is constantly evolving and changing the way that corporations operate in terms of making larger profits, so the problem isn’t the ever changing technology. Writers want to feel secure in their jobs, but the way that technology changes business practices in the television and film industry make jobs that were once secure careers now insecure or temporary work that can be outsourced.  “We’ve got to have new models for a new kind of business” (118). The problem is the way that corporations make money through the exploitation of labor.

Strikes tend to deal with the current demands of the labor force rather than dealing with long term demands. Often a smaller issue gets fixed, but in the long run the oppressive power which the workers strike against will be able to temporarily change their ways, but will continue similar practices or resort to old practices. “The outset that the biggest obstacle they faced in trying to maintain labor peace in Hollywood was the perception gap between management and labor on new media” (115).

Friday Night Lights NBC Poster

Friday Night Lights NBC Poster

A TV show that I thought of while reading Littleton’s book is the NBC show Friday Night Lights and the noticeable impact that the writer’s strike had on the second and third seasons of the hit television show. The show is an adaptation based on the book by H.G. Bissinger that was adapted into a 2004 film directed by Peter Berg and then a 2006 television show. The first season of the show was the most successful out of the five seasons. The second season of the show was dramatically impacted by the writers strike. The second season was originally scheduled to be twenty-two episodes but as a result of the strike was cut to fifteen episodes. There were new characters and new storylines that were introduced in season two, but were cut by season three. The opening five minutes of the first episode of season three consisted of recaps, retellings, and explanations of what would have happened in those seven episodes that were never filmed. Cohesively season one and season three make more sense in relation to plot and character development than the majority of season two.

This was a television example of how the writers strike impacted the storylines within a show, but I was also thinking about other labor strikes that maybe weren’t just television or film related and have had a large impact on both the employees and consumers within a company.

Rindge, NH Market Basket

Rindge, NH Market Basket

I’m from a small New Hampshire town of roughly 6,000 people and one of the most important businesses to Rindge, NH is Market Basket. Here’s some Market Basket history so you’ll understand where this goes. I have to explain roughly the entire history so you’ll understand the events that led to the protests in the summer of 2014.

Demoulas Family Owned Market Lowell, MA 1939

Demoulas Family Owned Market Lowell, MA 1939

In 1954, two brothers Telemachus “Mike” Demoulas and George A. Demoulas purchase Demoulas Market, which is their parents’ local market store in Lowell, Massachusetts that was created in 1917 and convert it into a modern supermarket. The two brothers then decide to expand the business into a small chain of supermarkets, with locations through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and a few in southern Maine. George dies in 1971 and in 1990 his widow and his children sue Telemachus Demoulas for defrauding shares in the company. The judge awarded George’s family about $205 million and 50% of the company. Telemachus was also ordered to be removed as president of the company.

Telemachus has a son Arthur T. Demoulas and in 2008 Arthur T. is named President and CEO of Demoulas Supermarkets, Inc. While Arthur T. is CEO sales grow from $3 billion a year to $4 billon year and the number of employees grows from 14,000-25,000. Arthur has this reputation as a CEO to really care about his employees. He remembers names, birthdays, and milestones, attending many of their weddings and funerals. He checks in at all the stores and really builds relationships with each employee.

Arthur T. and Arthur S. Demoulas

Arthur T. and Arthur S. Demoulas

In 2010, Arthur S. Demoulas (George’s son) accuses Arthur T. Demoulas (Telemachus’ son) of plundering millions of dollars by arranging deals to create Market Basket  stores that would pay companies that Arthur controlled millions of dollars in excessive real estate prices. The board of directors hired Mel L. Greenberg, a retired judge to investigate the claims made by Arthur S. Demoulas. Greenburg found that Arthur T. was not guilty of the claims made by Arthur S. Demoulas.

On June 23, 2014, three top-level executives-CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, Vice President Joseph Rockwell and Director of Operations William Marsden—were fired by the board of directors. The dismissal of Arthur T. resulted in protests from the company’s employees and customers. The protests ended on August 27, 2014 when the company’s shareholders, including Arthur S. Demoulas agreed to sell their shares to Arthur T. Demoulas.

Market Basket workers Protesting and urging shoppers to boycott the store July 2014

Rindge, NH Market Basket workers Protesting and urging shoppers to boycott the store July 2014

During the protests 300 employees held a rally outside of Market Basket’s Chelsea, MA store on June 24, 2014. The protesters criticized the Market Basket board for putting money before people by choosing to pay its shareholders more instead of reinvesting in the business. Many also feared that the new leadership would cut benefits, wages, profit-sharing, and bonuses and raise prices.

I decided to write about the Market Basket protests because for those two months the protest really hit my town hard and hit a lot of local businesses hard as well. Market Basket is very important to local communities because they buy and sell local produce and other products from farmers in the area. For those two months not only did the employees suffer significantly in not making any money for those two months, but also the local farmers who weren’t able to sell their produce. Market Basket supports a lot of full-time employees by providing insurance and other benefits including healthcare and paid sick leave. Market Basket’s starting wage for full-time clerks is $12 and hour—above minimum wage. When I was in high school about forty percent of my student body worked at Market Basket during the school year. Market Basket is also very important to local communities because they sell groceries at more affordable prices than their competitors. So that summer, consumers also suffered significantly in trying to find an affordable and fresh alternative to Market Basket.  Market Basket also does not have self-checkout lanes in their stores because Arthur T. once stated he wanted “a human being waiting on a human being.”

Tomy, Andrew and Kathryn Kelly with Arthur T. Demoulas at the Rindge, NH Market Basket

Tom, Andrew and Kathryn Kelly with Arthur T. Demoulas at the Rindge, NH Market Basket

I wanted to examine a strike that dealt with current and future labor issues. The goal of the Market Basket strike was for the workers to have control over who they wanted to represent them as well as control their livelihood while working for the company and after two months of protesting workers were granted this desire.

“What changed? Plenty. First and foremost, there was no groundswell among members to fight for economic gains this time around. Three years after the strike ended, many writers were still recovering from the financial hits absorbed during the work stoppage and the downsizing of production budgets and pay scales that followed. The broader economic turmoil spurred by the 2008 crisis in he financial markets had a humbling effect, as writers faced the same uncertainty about employment prospects and health care benefits as workers in other industries” (260).

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