BOSTON (AP) — One of the most remarkable work stoppages in U.S. labor history will soon be the subject of a documentary film.
“Food Fight: Inside the Battle for Market Basket” is being edited and is scheduled to be released in the fall, said director Jay Childs, a New Hampshire-based film maker who’s been working on the project for two years.
The documentary is about the yearslong power struggle between cousins Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas that came to a head last summer when thousands of nonunion workers at the Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based supermarket chain walked off the job — not because they were looking for better pay or benefits but because they wanted their boss back.
Longtime President Arthur T. had been fired after a faction of the company’s board led by Arthur S. took control. The workers feared the company would be sold to some faceless conglomerate that would put the financial interests of shareholders ahead of workers and shoppers.
The company, founded nearly a century ago by the cousins’ grandfather, came to a grinding halt. Fiercely loyal customers sided with workers and boycotted. Stores remained open but went unstocked. The governors of two states intervened.
Childs knew Market Basket workers revered Arthur T. for his belief that a family business should treat its thousands of workers as family.
But he understood just how deep that loyalty was when he went to an appearance by Arthur T. at a new store and watched as it took the boss 20 minutes to walk a few feet from his car to a flatbed truck to make a speech. He was mobbed.
“It was a cross between a rock star and a papal visit,” Childs said.
Childs interviewed high-ranking company employees who organized the work stoppage, customers and outside experts. But he hasn’t yet gotten an interview with either of the Arthurs. He doubts he’ll get Arthur S. but hopes he can get Arthur T. in time to include him in the film.
One of the employees interviewed for the film was Steve Paulenka, an operations supervisor who started as a bagger 40 years ago.
Paulenka said he stayed loyal because to Arthur T. always remained loyal to workers.
“We played up the loyalty aspect to our people, and this film about that loyalty,” he said.
Kevin Griffin, publisher of The Griffin Report, a food industry trade journal, is curious to see the movie.
“It was remarkable because it was one of those stories where everybody won,” he said.
A year after the dispute, the company is thriving, Griffin said.
Market Basket, now with 75 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, is on track to reach about $4.5 billion in sales this year, about the same or slightly better than last year, he said.
The film is being financed in part by a Kickstarter campaign that so far has raised more than $66,000, much of that from customers and employees, Childs said.
Childs wants audiences to understand the challenging circumstances the workers faced.
“This is a deep rich story of ordinary people without a formal plan rewriting corporate history,” he said. “They were trying to save a work environment and culture which they believed in, and I want people to understand that while they were successful, it was extremely difficult.”
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