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OPINION: They've Crossed A Line, Gooch And Thornton Must Go

Aug 06, 2014 04:20PM ● By Bill Gilman
(Publisher's note: Those who know me and my philosophy behind this site know this column violates one of my tenets. I'm taking a side, publicly, on a volatile issue. It is my feeling that the actions taken by the parties involved are so egregious that to not publicly comment would be a disservice to our readers, residents and those being harmed. --bg)

In a labor dispute that has raged from the board room to the parking lots and has gained national attention, DeMoulas Supermarkets co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch have crossed a line.
Now it's time for them to go.
Make no mistake, this war has been brutal from the moment managers and employees gathered by the thousands, July 18, on the lawn of the DeMoulas Headquarters on East Street. Those working in the corporate offices and warehouses, as well as drivers, walked off their jobs to protest the firing of Arthur T. DeMoulas as CEO/President.
That triggered a series of figurative punches and counterpunches by both sides over the next 18 days, with each side trying to back the other into a corner, intimidate by a show of resolve and win in the court of public opinion. The biggest winner has been the Lowell Sun, which sold full page ads to the company and a group of customers.
The workers have staged three rallies in the parking lot of Stadium Plaza, each attracting several thousand workers, family members and customers. How could they hold a rally on private property owned by DeMoulas, you might ask? Permission was granted by an Artie T. loyalist who works as an executive in the real estate division of the company, separate from the supermarket operation and still controlled by Artie T.
Workers also organized and promoted a massive boycott of Market Basket that has swept New England. The boycott has actually been encouraged inside the stores via signs and literature. 
That boycott, combined with the strike by drivers and warehouse workers and store directors turning away what few trucks are making deliveries, have left the shelves at the chain's 71 stores nearly bare and has contributed to sales dropping by more than 80 percent. Losses to the company are said to be as high as $7-10 million a day.
Gooch and Thornton, backed by a Board of Directors controlled by Arthur S. DeMoulas and his side of the family, have returned fire in several ways -- some obvious, some subtle but the last one, unforgivable.
First, Gooch and Thornton fired "The DeMoulas Eight." These were high ranking managers and executives seen as being the ringleaders of the walkout and boycott.
When that didn't quell the uprising, they began the carrot and stick strategy. First, they offered amnesty to all who participated in the strike, inviting them to return to work without penalty. But the few who showed up at the warehouse the next day claim they were turned away. Regardless, the gesture did nothing to dissuade the employees as a whole.
The stick came in the form of an ultimatum. Employees who had walked off the job had to return to work by Monday, Aug. 4 or be fired. The same was true for store directors who failed to return to business as usual.
Along with that stick came a carrot, a bribe if you will, designed to pit employees against each other and break the resolve of the protesters. They announced a three-day job fair at the DeMoulas Andover warehouse. But the first two days were for current employees (associates) who might be interested in applying for some of the vacancies in better positions created by the recent and future firings.
Participation was minimal.
The third day, Wednesday, was for outsiders. It remains to be seen how many people applied.
Gooch and Thornton have also engaged in the PR battle. One particularly nasty salvo was a press release on Monday announcing an email address had been set up so that employees wishing to apply for the vacant positions could do so without risk of intimidation or threat of harm. This was intended to accomplish two goals -- provide a ready-made excuse if nobody showed up to the job fair and paint the striking workers as thugs. (Side note: There have been police reports of isolated incidents of vandalism at the Tewksbury warehouse and one employee's car window was smashed, allegedly by a striker, while she was leaving the HQ parking lot but no charges have been filed.)
The Gooch/Thornton/Arthur S. PR machine was in action again when an "unnamed source" at DeMoulas headquarters leaked information to the New York Times about the efforts by Arthur T. DeMoulas to buy the company.
The article (which can be found by clicking here) focused on a few key points that Gooch/Thornton/Arthur S. wanted out there.
1. There are at least 10 potential buyers for DeMoulas and Arthur T.'s is not the highest offer.
2. Arthur T. has to try and get financing for his bid and that is less likely because of the labor dispute.
3. None of the other purchase offers have been lowered in spite of the worker rebellion.
4. Some of Arthur T.'s siblings might not support his effort to buy the company.
Make no mistake. The information the "source" leaked for this story was aimed directly at the employees and customers. It was intended to shake the resolve of those striking and boycotting.
They might as well have yelled:
"Your protests are pointless. It isn't having an impact the value of the company to buyers. In fact, the boycott and strike might actually hurt Arthur T.'s chance of being able to buy the company. Even Arthur T's sisters don't support him."
That is what you call corporate hardball. It is distasteful to be sure but those are the tactics it takes to win in corporate America. Tough, but within the bounds of fair play.
Until now.
This week, they crossed the line and now they have to go.
Ch. 7 News is reporting that Felicia Thornton sent a memo out to the company's 71 store directors, ordering them to reduce labor costs to a point equal to the volume of business they are doing.
In other words, if your store has seen revenues drop 80 percent during the strike and boycott, then slash labor costs by 80 percent.
The impact of these cutbacks in hours will be devastating, if not crippling, to the majority of the company's 25,000 employees. Again, it needs to be made clear, the only people striking are the drivers, warehouse workers and those who work in the offices at HQ. But these draconian cuts will impact the employees at all 71 stores.
Many of these employees are college and high school students, single parents and retirees on fixed incomes. These cuts will be crushing.
Which is exactly why Gooch, Thornton and Arthur S. are doing it. They want to rip the very heart out of this employee rebellion by hurting its most vulnerable participants.
They are intentionally punishing those workers who had the temerity to speak their minds and support Arthur T. and the strikers. These employees had the gall to stand up against what they believed to be a wrong being done to their former boss and their fellow workers. All the while, reporting for work every day and doing their jobs.
Their only "crime" is loyalty, a love of their company and their boss and exercising their First Amendment rights.
They are being punished by three people who are showing, once again, that they fail to understand a business is not built in the boardroom but at the grassroots level. It's built by the men and women in the trenches, doing the work every day and building the reputation of the company name,
Thousands of real people with real families will be hurt badly because of the vile, petty, vindictive, selfish actions of a few.
We get it Arthur S., a court ruled that Arthur T's dad cheated your side of the family. That would make most of us mad, too. But you and your siblings won that court fight. Now it's time to let it go. Your father wouldn't want this and your grandfather wouldn't want this. It's time sell the company to the man who actually wants to run it. Sell the company to Arthur T. DeMoulas immediately.
As for Gooch and Thornton -- they have shown themselves to be soulless corporate mercenaries and they have crossed a line by taking actions designed to hurt families.
It's time for them to go.
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