Thursday Reads: A Victory for Workers, Women Overcoming Misogyny, and Other News

Market Basket employee Tony Khater (left) celebrates with store director Al Jussaume (right) after learning of the sales agreement.

Market Basket employee Tony Khater (left) celebrates with store director Al Jussaume (right) after learning of the sales agreement

Good Morning!!

Score one for the workers! The Market Basket war is over and the the good guys won for a change. Late last night Arthur T. Demoulas signed an agreement to buy out his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas’ share of the business for $1.5 billion.

From The Boston Globe:

The epic battle over Market Basket that sparked an extraordinary worker revolt and captivated the public through the summer ended Wednesday when Arthur T. Demoulas reached a deal to buy the company from rival relatives for more than $1.5 billion.

Market Basket’s shareholders announced the deal at 11:15 p.m. after several days of suspenseful negotiations. Arthur T. Demoulas and his sisters will buy the shares of their cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and other relatives on his side of the family, who collectively own 50.5 percent of the company.

In a statement stripped bare of the emotion of recent days, the company and its shareholders asked managers, employees, and customers to return to stores to help get Market Basket running again. It also announced the reinstatement of Arthur T., who had been fired as president in June.

Market basket2

“Effective immediately, Arthur T. Demoulas is returning to Market Basket with day-to-day operational authority of the company,” the statement said. “All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations.”

The sale agreement, which will take months to formally close, ends a fight so bitter it took the intervention of the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire to help the Demoulas family resolve it after nearly a quarter-century.

The agreement authorizes Arthur T. to manage the business and stabilize operations at its 71 stores, where employee walkouts and customer boycotts had brought business to a virtual standstill for six weeks. He will also be able to rehire several managers who were fired along with him. However, until the deal closes, he will continue to work with the chief executives hired to replace him, Felicia Thornton and James Gooch.

Forbes: Warring Billionaires Finally Settle Family Score With Market Basket Deal.

Market Basket’s 25,000 employees will be heading back to work following a summer of discontent. The New England supermarket chain has been rocked by protests and customer boycotts since Arthur T Demoulas was ousted as President and CEO June 24th. He and his team, many of whom were also fired during the crisis, will be reinstated as management while the deal wraps up. They’ll work alongside co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, who were brought in by the board after Arthur T and his management team were removed.

“Effective immediately, Arthur T. Demoulas is returning to Market Basket with day-to-day operational authority of the company,” reads a statement from Arthur T. “All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations.”

“Tonight we raise a glass to Artie T and each other as we have achieved the most improbable of upsets,” writes the anonymous blogger behind website wearemarketbasket.com. The website as well as social media have been key sources of information for employees refusing to work following Arthur T’s dismissal. “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.”

Arthur T2

Arthur T. will address workers this morning, according to the Boston Herald; but in the meantime, the job of restocking Market Basket shelves in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine has begun. From AP (via ABC News), Deliveries Roll Following Deal in Supermarket Feud.

Tractor-trailers bearing the Market Basket logo and laden with the tons of food it will take to restock the chain’s 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as vendor vehicles, pulled up to loading docks before business Thursday, just hours after the announcement late Wednesday that Arthur T. Demoulas paid $1.5 billion for shares of the company owned by the rival family faction, led by cousin Arthur S. Demoulas….

“All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations,” Arthur T. Demoulas said in a statement

“I feel like I won the lottery,” Market Basket truck driver Buddy Wemmers told The Boston Globe.

“I’m thrilled, this is epic,” said Tom Trainor, a district supervisor, told the Boston Herald.

Gary Sessa, a front end manager at the chain’s Tewksbury store, told WFXT-TV that company bakers came in at midnight after hearing the news and started baking cakes that say “Welcome back Artie T: Market Basket Strong.”

It does my heart good to see the workers win this battle. I hope this will encourage others to stand up against efforts to make businesses less worker-friendly and more profitable for stockholders. Perhaps it will even convince a few CEOs that treating their employees with respect can pay off in the long run.

Will Misogyny Never Die?

Kirsten Gillibrand with her preferred candidate for President

Kirsten Gillibrand with her preferred candidate for President

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand has a book coming out, and yesterday People Magazine released some tidbits from their interview with her. It seems that the mostly elderly men in Congress who are making decisions about women’s health and working conditions feel entitled to make judgmental remarks about their female co-workers’ bodies. The Washington Post reports: “I like my girls chubby,” a male Senator told Kirsten Gillibrand. Yes, really, by Jaime Fuller.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has a new book coming out, “Off the Sidelines,” and has been making the media rounds to promote it. The New York Post highlighted parts of the book today, in an article titled, “Gillibrand: Male colleagues called me ‘porky’ after baby.”

As awful as that headline is, things get worse in the book, according to the story. One quote in particular stands out. Gillibrand reveals that one male Senator, after she lost about 50 pounds, came up behind her and gave her waist a squeeze. “Don’t lose too much weight now,” he told her. “I like my girls chubby.” She says that he was one of her favorite senators(!).

As Gillibrand’s title infers, the book goes into detail about the things that women in politics still have to deal with that their male counterparts, well, don’t….

Gillibrand surely isn’t alone in having to deal with such comments with her male colleagues at the Capitol, although some of her encounters are jaw-droppingly bad/offensive. When she was still in the House, a Southern representative told her, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”

I only wish Gillibrand had named names.

Fuller includes a link to this 2013 article by Olivia Messer at the Texas Observer, The Texas Legislature’s Sexist Little Secret in which she writes about what she experienced and observed as woman reporter covering the Texas legislature. The stories are probably representative of legislative bodies (pun intended) around the country.

It didn’t take me long to realize that as a woman, and especially a young woman, I’d be treated differently than my male colleagues. Within weeks, I’d already heard a few horrifying stories. Like the time a former Observerstaffer, on her first day in the Capitol, was invited by a state senator back to his office for personal “tutoring.” Or, last session, when Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton interrupted Marisa Marquez during a House floor debate to ask if her breasts were real or fake.

Thankfully I never experienced anything so sexually explicit. Instead, I encountered a string of subtle but demeaning comments. One of the first interviews I conducted for the Observer, in February, was with a male senator about an anti-abortion bill. I was asking questions about whether the bill would reduce access to abortion. At the end of the interview, as soon as I turned off my recorder, he said, “How old are you, sweetheart? You look so young.”

Another day, near the end of the regular session, I was at the Capitol (doing interviews for this story, coincidentally) when a House page stopped me on my way out of the chamber. “I’ve never seen you in here before,” he said. “Who do you work for?” I answered the question, assuming that he wanted to see my press badge. “Well, uh, this may seem forward,” he stammered, “but I’m not sure if I’ll ever see you again—could I maybe take you out to lunch or dinner some time?” He looked about 16, red-faced and innocent. I politely declined. When I walked over to the Senate chamber, a staffer stopped me. “Wow,” he said. “You look really beautiful today.” My face turned red. I thanked him and walked to a seat at the press table. It was the third time that day the staffer had mentioned my appearance, and I was beginning to feel that what I looked like mattered more than my work—at least to the men in the building. At a certain point, after enough of these run-ins—which included male staffers from both chambers, some of whom I knew to be married, hitting on me, making comments about my physical appearance, touching my arm—it finally occurred to me that, when I was at work, I was often fending off advances like I was in a bar.

What surprised me was how many women who work in the Capitol—legislators, staffers, lobbyists, other reporters—felt the same way. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or anecdote about being objectified or patronized.

Messer’s article is long, but it’s fascinating reading. At one point she writes about the night Wendy Davis and her female colleagues “took over the capital” and filibustered an anti-abortion bill.

Here’s another great commentary on the Gillibrand story by Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast, Senate Pigs Called Kirsten Gillibrand ‘Porky’.

Clueless Politico reporter John Bresnahan

Clueless Politico reporter John Bresnahan

Naturally, these stories about sexism among male politicians were all over Twitter yesterday. One male Politico writer named John Bresnahan doubted whether Gillibrand was really telling the truth. He got shot down pretty thoroughly and later apologized and stopped tweeting for the night. Even plenty of young men like Bresnahan just don’t get it.

Politics isn’t the only field where men treat women like pieces of meat. Women in the tech field usually have plenty of horror stories about things their male colleagues. Here are just a few random links to stories about it from the past couple of years.

The New York Times, Technology’s Man Problem.

The Washington Post, Snapchat, sexism and the reason women don’t stay in tech.

The Washington Post, Google statistics show Silicon Valley has a diversity problem.

Alternet, High-Tech Industry Focused on Babes and Boobs Needs Killer Sexism App.

Business Insider, 9 Stomach-Churning Posts From Secret That Show Awful Sexist Behavior In The Tech Industry.

Women who write critically about video games–or even play games on-line–are targets for hatred and violent threats. This isn’t the first story like this I’ve seen: Feminist video game critic forced to leave her home after online rape and death threats. Raw Story reports:

Anita Sarkeesian, creator of an online video series analyzing problematic representations of women in video games, was forced to leave her home on Tuesday after death threats made online against herself and her family, Polygon reported.

“Some very scary threats have just been made against me and my family,” Sarkeesian posted on Tuesday. “Contacting authorities now.”

After confirming she had found a safe place to stay, Sarkeesian posted a screengrab of the threats, posted by a Twitter account calling itself “Kevin Dobson,” which identified her address and her parents, as well as several vulgar threats, including one to “ram a hot tire iron up [her] c*nt” (read the messages at Raw Story)

Sarkeesian reported the threats a day after she released a new episode of her series, Feminist Frequency, dealing with games that feature sexualized female victims or female characters introduced solely to highlight either a villain’s aggression or provide motivation for players to complete their missions.

The effect of introducing these “mature themes,” she argues in the episode, is the trivialization of painful experiences that are all too common….

“When games casually use sexualized violence as a ham-fisted form of character development for the bad guys, it reinforces a popular misconception about gendered violence by framing it as something abnormal, as a cruelty committed only by the most transparently evil strangers,” she says in the video. “In reality, however, violence against women — and sexual violence, in particular — is a common everyday occurence, often perpetrated by ‘normal men,’ known and trusted by those targeted.”

A few more links to interesting stories:

stonehenge

CNN, U.S. official says 1,000 Russian troops enter Ukraine.

Christian Science Monitor, UN: Ebola cases in W. Africa could top 20,000.

Wall Street Journal, Rebels in Syria Capture Border Crossing With Israel.

Reuters, U.S. air strikes on Syria would face formidable obstacles.

New York Times Video, Michael Brown’s Body (an amazing collection of interviews with residents of Michael Brown’s neighborhood).

Christian Science Monitor, What Republican wave? (Writer Doug Mataconis doesn’ think a Republican takeover of the Senate is inevitable).

E on Line, Discovery Channel’s Sons of Guns Canceled After Star Will Hayden Is Charged With Raping His 12-Year-Old Daughter.

Washington Post, Report reveals the horrors of 1,400 sexually abused children in a British town and the system that failed them.

WBUR Boston, Growing Number Of War Correspondents Work For Themselves.

Nature World News, Mystery of Sailing Stones Unveiled in Death Valley.

Discovery News, 2,700-Year-Old Phoenician Shipwreck Discovered.

Huffington Post, Archaeologists Discover 15 Previously Unknown Monuments Buried Around Stonehenge.

News.Com.AU, The truth about Stonehenge: New survey reveals more secrets

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!


Tuesday Reads: Two Business Models and Their Effects on Workers, Customers, and Corporate Profits

woman-reading-porch

 

Good Morning!!

I love this painting by American impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam. Just looking at it relaxes me. The colors are gorgeous and somehow surprising. I wouldn’t normally expect orange to have a calming effect, but it does for me in this work. It’s interesting that Childe Hassam used the color orange quite a bit in his paintings. The subject of this painting is a startling contrast to what’s happening in the world right now, and that’s why I decided to use it and others by Childe Hassam today as a reminder that there is still beauty in the world despite the ugliness of world events.

I’m going to focus on a local Massachusetts story today, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts on it; but please feel free to discuss any topics you wish in the comment thread. I’m going to be focusing on working people and working conditions, so I’m going to begin with this great piece by Robert Reich at Truthdig, The Disconnect Between Workers’ Pay and Social Worth.

What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year….

Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year.

Before you conclude that’s generous, consider that a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost.

One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.

And what of writers, actors, painters, and poets? Only a tiny fraction ever become rich and famous. Most barely make enough to live on (many don’t, and are forced to take paying jobs to pursue their art). But society is surely all the richer for their efforts.

At the other extreme are hedge-fund and private-equity managers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, management consultants, high-frequency traders, and top Washington lobbyists.

They’re getting paid vast sums for their labors. Yet it seems doubtful that society is really that much better off because of what they do.

Read the rest at the link. Robert Reich is a treasure, isn’t he? He never gives up.

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Now to the local story, which I see as related. I have posted links recently in morning posts and comments about a work stoppage that has been going on here in Massachusetts and that has implications for retail and other low-wage workers around the country. I posted this article from Esquire last week, but I’m going to link to it again: The Last Stand for the Middle Class is Taking Place in a Parking Lot in Massachusetts, by Chris Farone.

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.

But at one of the most popular grocery store chains in New England–Market Basket–there is a struggle going on that could be turning point similar to the fight by fast food workers for better pay and benefits. Farone writes:

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.”

Demoulas was ousted by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, who had managed to take over control of the company’s board of directors and whom workers suspect want to take the company in a different (anti-worker) direction. The reason Arthur T. is beloved is that he paid his workers a living wage, provided them with outstanding benefits, all the while attracting customers with quality local produce and low prices–underselling every other grocery chain in New England, including Walmart–all this while making handsome profits.

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.

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

You can see how the Market Basket formula threatens other corporate bosses. Because it’s successful.

As it turns out, the Market Basket formula does work. In a recent study of Massachusetts grocery store chains, the nonprofit Washington DC-based Center for the Study of Services found “DeMoulas Market Basket’s prices averaged about 22 percent lower than the average prices at the Shaw’s stores [they] checked and 10 to 21 percent lower than the prices at the Stop & Shop stores.” Despite paying starting full-timers $12 an hour and having many career employees on the payroll who make six figures, the survey found that Market Basket had, on average, lower prices than all of their competitors — including Walmart.

Despite such presumably tight profit margins, Market Basket pays its roughly 19,000 workers yearly bonuses that often equal up to several months worth of salary, plus invests the equivalent of 15 percent of every paycheck into a retirement plan. At the same time, the company is impressively profitable. Shareholders have pocketed in excess of $1 billion since 2000, while the business is currently the 127th biggest privately owned American company according to Forbes. In 2013, Market Basket reportedly rang in $4.6 billion in revenue.

Demoulas workers began protesting in store parking lots, store shelves are empty because the workers who deliver goods and stock the shelves aren’t doing so, and loyal customers are refusing to shop at Market Basket until Arthur T. is back in charge. And please note these are non-union workers.

Last week, Arthur T. offered to buy out Arthur S’s share in the company. That offer is still on the table. But over the weekend, the board announced that workers who had been protesting would be fired if they didn’t come to work yesterday. They also announced a job fair to attract replacement workers. The protesting workers announced they would continue to protest. So how did the job fair work out?

From the Boston Globe: Few Show Up for Market Basket Job Fair as Protests Enter Third Week.

Day one of Market Basket’s job fair did not seem to turn out many current employees looking to change positions within the company. Dozens of protesters marched back and forth across the entrance to the company’s Andover facility, continuing the remarkable worker and customer protest into its third week. At one point a shuttle bus brought in fresh protesters, who took a shift on the picket line as grateful protesters handed off signs and pictures to them.

Few vehicles took the left turn into the facility’s parking lot. Those that did were met with leers and jeers from the crowd, which quickly followed police orders whenever a car did come through.

“I don’t think anyone will show up,” said Mike, a North Andover Market basket employee who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution from the company. “Most of us believe this is a scare tactic to get us back to work.”

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

After the failure of the job fair, executives announced that people could apply for Market Basket jobs secretly by e-mail.

AP, via ABC News: Market Basket Workers Plan Huge Rally for Ex-CEO.

Employees who have organized massive protests over the past two weeks say they are expecting up to 15,000 employees, customers and supporters to attend a rally Tuesday outside a Market Basket store in Tewksbury.

The family-owned chain has been in turmoil since June, when a board controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas fired his cousin, CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers who support Arthur T. Demoulas have refused to deliver food to the chain’s 71 stores, leaving store shelves severely depleted and prompting customers to defect to other supermarkets.

Workers are hoping Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family will accept an offer from his cousin to buy the company, which is known for its low prices.

As for the firings that took place yesterday, Mass, NH Attorneys General warn Market Basket.

The Attorneys General in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts have sent the Market Basket CEOs a warning saying if anyone is fired they better get the wages they are owed.

“Even though they may have the right to terminate employees we want to make sure the company knows that for payment, wages, for benefits may have accrued over a time period, those are due on the day of termination,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

And there will be lawsuits, Fired Market Basket Supervisors Plan To Sue. So, to sum up, the board of directors of Market Basket seems willing to bring down the company to support one side of a family dispute over contrasting business models–on the one hand, a focus on the bottom line and making profits for the fat cats; on the other, a focus on sharing profits with workers, making customers happy,  and in the process making plenty of money for all concerned. Who will win? I don’t know, but, IMHO, this is an important struggle.

What do you think?

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

More Headlines:

The Guardian: US fast-food workers fight McDonald’s as battle for better wages heads to court.

Bloomberg: Israel Pulls All Troops From Gaza as New Cease-Fire Holds.

New York Times: Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary, by Atef Abu Saif.

AP on a crazy scheme to bring down the Cuban government–why do we keep doing stupid stuff like this? US Sent Latin Youth Undercover in Anti-Cuba Ploy.

New York Times: Behind Toledo’s Water Crisis, a Long-Troubled Lake Erie.

The Guardian: The case of baby Gammy shows surrogacy for the repulsive trade it is, by Suzanne Moore.

The Hill: US won’t turn back flights over Ebola.

Politico: Congress approval hits new low (poll).

The Daily Beast Exclusive: ‘Pro-Troop’ Charity Pays Off Tea Party Cronies Instead.

What else is happening?