Labor, management and Market Basket

If you don’t live in New England – you have probably never heard of the Market Basket grocery chain.  It has been known for customer service and low prices.  I confess that I’ve probably shopped there maybe twice in the last 20 years so I am clearly not a regular.  But I know people who swear by Market Basket and, for some, it is the only store in town.  Whether you have heard of MB and love it, or don’t know the first thing about the store, there are lessons to be learned for Labor Day.

For more years than I can count, there has been a feud between the two cousins, Arthur S. and Arthur T. who inherited the store.  It has involved an epic court battle, and if I remember correctly, disciplinary action against some of the attorneys.  There was also an actual fist fight as at one point between the Arthurs.  All the while, Arthur T. has been managing the stores and making money for everyone.  But, according to the employees and Arthur T., the board wanted to take a bigger share of the profits for themselves and the shareholders who are mainly family members. The board decided to fire Arthur T.  Shirley Leung writes in her Boston Globe column

For six weeks, we were mesmerized by the sight of thousands of grocery clerks, cashiers, and other workers protesting at stores, on Facebook, and on the front pages of this paper. They did so at great risk, without the protection of a union, not because they wanted higher wages, but merely the return of their beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas.

 

Who among us would do that? Not many, if any at all. We were riveted because we wanted to be them. These rebellious employees gave voice to the voiceless masses who just wanted to hold on to decent wages for a decent day’s work at a time when fat cats get $50 million paychecks for showing up, and the gap between the rich and the poor is as gaping as ever.

 

After the Market Basket board ousted Arthur T., these foot soldiers of capitalism kept the story alive when they made flyers protesting his removal and distributed them to customers. Then they reached out to the media and politicians to talk about their improbable demand. Soon workers walked off the job and refused to restock shelves. Customers boycotted in solidarity, putting the economic squeeze on new management to do something.

While it is tempting to portray Arthur T. as the Good Arthur and Arthur S. as the Bad Arthur, as Leung points out Arthur S. and his pals never carried out threats to fire everyone and hire new people.  There was an attempt to hold a job fair, but it was never clear how many people came or if anyone was hired.  I believe eight people were fired early on, but that example didn’t slow either the employee action or customer boycotts.  The governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts got involved.  A settlement was announced finally and Arthur T. is buying out Arthur S. so as to become the majority shareholder.  He will now be running a severely damage company in deep debt and will be borrowing money to pay for his purchase.

Employees seem optimistic.  They returned to work as soon as the announcement was made.  Whether the stores can be stocked so there are things for people to buy, whether suppliers can return, and whether Arthur T. can keep to his promise to continue to treat and pay workers well are open questions.  If Market Basket can beat the odds and make a comeback to profitability, the story will be studied in business schools and by labor historians for many years.  Actually, it will probably be studied no matter what happens.

Market Basket employees celebrate the return of Arthur T.

Market Basket employees celebrate the return of Arthur T.

The Market Basket story is one for this Labor Day.  Non-union employees took collective action to save a boss and his practice of putting employees above shareholders. I’ll let Joan Vennochi have the last word.

Most notable is the power of narrative. Market Basket workers used social media as an organizing tool, but, at the same time, they skillfully used old and new media to tell their story before the other side knew what was happening.

And, unless you were Arthur S., it was a story that had something for everyone:

Workers standing up for, not against, management.

The desire to believe in one corporate leader putting the well-being of his workers

over shareholders, in an old-fashioned “It’s A Wonderful Life” way.

Employees of modest means willing to put paychecks for rent and mortgages on the line for principle.

“It speaks to a search and yearning for respect and fairness,” said Lew Finfer, a veteran community organizer who has worked for decades with unions to do just that by promoting better worker pay, conditions, and benefits.

There are lessons here for everyone.

Photograph:  JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF

 

Hitting reset

A few weeks ago, my husband and I both noted an article in the New York Times Week in Review section called “Hit the Reset “Button in Your Brain.”  The authors argued the need for a true vacation from work.  In other words not one like President Obama had where according to a news report I heard he talked to at least 9 foreign leaders and held at least 4 press conferences.  This would be in addition to the normal routine of daily briefings, etc.  Some of the rest of us call work and read email while ostensibly on vacation.  They argue

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain). The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.

0810BRAIN-master495

 

So what helps us reset and overcome the overload?

Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.

Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment. Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.

I suspect that by moving to Vermont with cleaner air, quiet, and lots of space to walk and appreciate nature even within a few blocks of our house, we have hit our reset buttons.  Being able to sit on the screened in porch and watch daylight fade as I did last night or taking a walk to see the stars tonight provides time to think and reflect.  We did try to do this in Boston by walking around Jamaica Pond for example, but even there you could hear traffic.  I used to walk over to Boston Harbor at lunch and look at the water.  These are urban dwellers solutions which people in cities can employ.  But they need to do so without cellphones and other devices.

I know it is a privilege to be able to retire to a place where we can so easily hit reset.

Illustration by Matthieu Bourel

A guide to talking about race

With the Michael Brown shooting leading the news and talk about possible ISIS attacks in the United States, racial and ethnic profiling is in the spotlight once again.  And you hear people saying that we need to have a conversation about race.  We keep talking about having one and somehow it never happens.  This is why I was interested to see Charles Blow’s recent column in the New York Times titled “Constructing a Conversation on Race.”

Let’s start with understanding what a racial conversation shouldn’t look like. It shouldn’t be an insulated, circular, intra-racial dialogue only among people who feel aggrieved.

A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not one-directional — from minorities to majorities — but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotype and mistrust must be examined. Personal — as well as societal and cultural — responsibility must be taken.

And privileges and oppressions must be acknowledged. We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists

We all carry our own baggage:  an encounter with someone of a different race or background that didn’t go well; a perceived slight; or feeling passed over for someone for what we felt were racial reasons.  We may talk about these things within our own circles which are often made up of people just like us.  I am usually one of the very few Asian Americans in any group and it was only when I moved to Boston that I could be on the street or even in a meeting that was predominantly Asian.  And now I’ve moved to Vermont which is one of the whitest states and where my sister and I have already been confused because we have the same last name.  I have been referred to as “white” which somehow offends me but I think it is meant as a kind of compliment.  Race can be a no win thing.

Blow continues

I often tell people that while I know well that things aren’t fair or equal, we still have to decide how we are going to deal with that reality, today. The clock on life is ticking. If you wait for life to be fair you may be waiting until life is over. I urge people to fight on two fronts: Work to dismantle as much systematic bias as you can, as much for posterity as for the present, and make the best choice you can under the circumstances to counteract the effects of these injustices on your life right now.

He also advises that we should think about what we mean by race.

Next, understand that race is a weaponized social construct used to divide and deny.

According to a policy statement on race by the American Anthropological Association, “human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups” and “there is greater variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.”

The statement continues:

“How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The ‘racial’ worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent.”

It ends:

“We conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called ‘racial’ groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.”

We need to think hard about why race and ethnicity are among the first things we recognize about someone and what we see is often not how the person thinks of herself.  One thing seems clear.   We need to talk and think about race a great deal more constructively that most current conversations where the parties can never get past their anger.  Maybe we can start the discussion by talking about Mr Blow’s column,

New laptop, new location

First post from FortLeft’s new home.  I am still trying to figure out all the ins and outs of this new laptop.  Ok, I’m a bit of a luddite and finally got a laptop, probably the last person to do s0.

Our furniture and boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff arrived two weeks ago tomorrow.  Progress has been made in unpacking, but when you have 6000+ books and the new house is configured differently, it is hard to place bookshelves and unbox.  Lots of stuff is ending up in the attic for now. But things are beginning to feel like home.  New routines – like curbside composting – are being established.

Don’t know when you last moved to a new state, but trying to change everything has taken a lot of energy and time.  I’m sure we will be discovering things we’ve missed for a while, but I think all the important stuff has been changed.  Moving to a different country would be even more difficult, I imagine.

The cats are adjusting and all the fish also survived the move.  The cats have explored their new digs and have found their sleeping spots.  I think they will miss the stacks of boxes when they are gone as places to jump to and sit on.

A fellow outside of the post office tried to get me to sign a petition about something the Board of Selectmen did, or maybe didn’t, do.  Had to tell him I didn’t know enough to have an opinion.  Not having an opinion is a bit strange for me, but I will keep reading the local paper and will figure things out.  For now, just enjoying a rainy day in Vermont.

Haven’t quite gotten the hang of inserting links and pictures yet so am re-using one.  But I wanted to do this first post before too much more time passed.

Books

Maps

I have loved maps ever since the 3rd or 4th grade when I scored really high on a map reading skills section of (the Iowa tests?) a test that ranked us nationally as well as individually.  We could have GPS in our new car, but we don’t.  I am generally the navigator on our road trips.  I used old fashioned foldy maps or a road atlas or both.  Once I was in a car with GPS and it wanted us to take a turn into the Charles River.  This was maybe 12 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten.

travel

So when I saw this article in the New York Times Sunday Review, I knew I had found a kindred spirit in Steven Kurutz.

CALL me a fossil, but when I take a road trip I like to get around by using printed maps. I’ve been licensed to drive for 20 years, and every car I’ve owned has contained a Rand McNally Road Atlas, with the maps of the Northeastern states dog-eared and loosened from their staples. Navigating by map carries over to foreign roads, too. In May my wife and I went to France, where we drove around Provence and dipped a wheel into Italy.

Before we left, I amassed the blanket topographical coverage I imagine the Allied generals had when they stormed the Continent. Collecting the maps was an interminable process. Bookstores have scaled back their selection in recent years. Or stopped selling maps altogether. Apparently, a good number of people think printed maps are pointless nowadays.

I guess you can still go to AAA and get triptiks and maps,  but map stores are closing.  I used to go to the Globe Bookstore for maps and guidebooks.  Now Brookline Booksmith has a small Globe Bookstore travel section.  And you can order maps from places like Barnes and Noble.  But it is harder to just wander into a store and open up a map and wonder what it would be like driving on a particular road.

As part of packing for our move, we have kept a lot of maps of places we have been.  I opened some of them and could remember when we drove to a certain place. As Kurutz says

Consider this, though: Using printed maps requires travelers to work together. You become a team. Driver and navigator. Your ability to get along and solve problems is tested in valuable, revealing ways. GPS removes that entire interpersonal dynamic. It encourages a passive form of journeying: sit back and drift, because the vaguely Australian-sounding computer lady will tell you to turn left in a quarter mile.

Driving by map, on the other hand, engages you actively with your surroundings. It makes you observe road signs, be in the moment. And that closer engagement, I’ve found, imprints the landscape more vividly and permanently on your mind. When I return home, I can unfold my maps and take myself back to a town or a stretch of highway.

Often I’ll buy a map months before the trip, and by studying it try to pull the opposite trick — to transport myself into the place I intend to visit. It builds anticipation. Eric Riback, a map publisher in upstate New York who writes a blog called Mapville, described this to me poetically as the “seeking, dreaming part of travel that you can do with a map.”

That is the joy of a map:  you can dream before and you can remember after.  You can’t really do that with a GPS.

Illustration:  Andrew Ho for the New York Times

FortLeft is moving

No, not the blog, just physically.  We are moving off the hill in Roxbury (Boston) to a hill in Brattleboro, VT.  As one of my Vermont friends said, “Welcome to Bernieland!”

You may – or may not- have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new in quite a while but things have been a little crazy what with house hunting, getting loans, etc.  And now that we have a target closing date there are all the details to deal with.  Home inspection, insurance, changing everything to another state and finding contractors when you are not on the scene is a challenge.  My advice is to have a good broker.  And then there is packing.

Packing up 20 years of stuff spread out in a 14 room house is quite an experience.  At least we are moving to another large house with attic and a basement that is dry and are sorting and culling rather than downsizing.  The trick is to imagine where things will go in the new house.  That’s what I do at 3 am when I can’t sleep – along with worrying about what kinds of quirks the new house will have.  My grandson said the other night that he thinks it will take at least a year to know all about the new house.  He’s 10.

I’ve been sorting though papers and have found a lot of treasures in piles and boxes. For example, I found some old letters and emails from two of my best friends.  One of them died of a rare form of cancer, the other now has a form of dementia.  We were all so happy and cheerful 12 and 15 years ago.  And then there are all the loose photographs from back when there was actual film. Remember, people would take pictures and then send prints of the best ones so a lot of them are still in envelopes which assists in identification.  And then there are all the ones my husband and I have taken.  At one time I did try to put them in albums, but that fell of the radar early on.  Now they are just loose or in the envelopes they came back from the developer in.  They will mean something some day.  My husband and I are our respective family historians so we have many of the old family albums.  It was a wonderful moment to find the picture I had thought was lost: My grandfather, the Reverend Kyogoku, with his friend, D.T. Suzuki.  (A subject for a future post.)  That photograph is now digitized and saved in several places.

I am an admitted pack rat and had saved old Christmas cards carefully bundled by year.  I ditched the cards, but saved the pictures.  One long Vermont winter I will pull them out to group chronologically by family.  I also had papers from a lot of the big projects I’ve worked on over the years in Boston.  I kept the final products but have recycled most of the work papers.  I have program books and announcements and copies of speeches from (to mane a few) the Jackson Square redevelopment (the early years); “Women on the Edge of Time”, the annual conference of the National Commissions for Women held in Boston in 1999; the creation of the Massachusetts Commission for Women; the first statue of women on Commonwealth Avenue; grants I helped write for domestic violence efforts; and booklets I put together for the Boston Housing Authority on civil rights issues. When I last  moved 20 years ago, I did the same thing with my stuff from Richmond which is still in neatly labeled boxes.  I also have political stuff from the various campaigns I’ve worked on – from George McGovern to Elizabeth Warren.  My lesson learned is to try to file things as you go along.  At least I’m starting with good intentions but I think I had them after Richmond.  Oh, well.

And then there are the books.  All 7,000 or so that are moving with us.  A small library.  I’ve been cataloging them on LibraryThing, for the last two years, but I’m only about half finished.  (LibraryThing is a great way to keep track of your books even if you just have a few.)

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

There is lots of excitement and anxiety on Fort Hill these days.  The cats are confused by all the piles of boxes and things that keep getting moved around as we pack. We talk to them and try to explain, but all they know is that things are different and they aren’t happy about it.  Mr. Bunter cries and Harriet eats Kleenex out of the boxes.  They are just as stressed out as their humans.

I will continue to write about life in a new place, living in a small town, and – always national politics.  My location will change but FortLeft will endure – perhaps a little irregularly for a while, but I hope not with as long a gap as just occurred.

 

 

 

Baseball, money and Sandy Koufax

When I read what ballplayers, even marginal ones who spend most of their time in the dugout, are making these days, I have  reactions from “Wow.  That’s a lot of money.” to “Well, they have pretty short careers.” to “I guess ticket prices will go up again” so I was very interested in Michael Beschloss’ piece in the New York Times this morning. 

I was a pre-teen when Sandy Koufax first came to baseball.  I kept a notebook with clippings and newspaper articles about him.  A close friend was a New York Giants fan and so I moved over to follow the Brooklyn Dodgers, abandoning my hometown team, the Phillies.  Baseball was one of the things we often watched on television as a family and I learned a lot about the game from my father and grandfather.  But back then, every game was not televised and after we acquired an early transistor radio, I would often listen outside in the afternoons when I could pick up the Dodger games from New York.  I was devastated by their move to Los Angeles until I figured out that at night I could pick up team broadcasts from all the National League teams east of the Mississippi which, back then, were almost all the teams in the league.  I would figure out who the Dodgers were playing and find that station staying up far into the night listening to the games when they played in California.  I particularly tried to listen when Sandy pitched.

I know that there are clippings in that notebook (which is probably in a storage box somewhere) about the Koufax-Drysdale holdout in 1965.  Beschloss writes

In 1962, the star Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax invested in a West Hollywood motor inn, which was renamed “Sandy Koufax’s Tropicana Motel.” Down Santa Monica Boulevard from the famed Troubadour club, these “74 luxurious air-conditioned rooms” — rented at “popular prices” — came to lodge some of the biggest musical acts of the period: Alice Cooper, Bob Marley, the Mamas and the Papas, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and the Doors. “I don’t know which made me more excited,” said one guest, “to be in Sandy’s motel or to be in a room right beside Sly Stone, from Sly and the Family Stone.”

The early 1960s were not the era of players like Miguel Cabrera, whose eight-year contract extension in March will give him the bountiful sum of $248 million. A major league star of that earlier time was well paid, but not so lavishly — given the relative brevity of most baseball careers — that he had no need to take an off-season job or plaster his name on a motor hotel or cocktail establishment like “Don Drysdale’s Dugout Lounge” in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Van Nuys. In 1965, Koufax was earning $85,000. Drysdale, his fellow Dodgers pitcher, took in $80,000. (Each salary would equal slightly less than $600,000 in 2014 dollars.)

That fall, the two men tried to overturn the usual year-to-year method of major league baseball bargaining, which Koufax called “negotiation by ultimatum” from management. He and Drysdale, friends who had served together in the Army, jointly demanded that the Dodgers pay them a million dollars over three years, divided equally between the two of them. When the team went to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., for 1966 spring training, Drysdale and Koufax staged a double holdout. “Ballplayers aren’t slaves,” Koufax told reporters, “and we have a right to negotiate.”

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after winning the 1965 World Series

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale after winning the 1965 World Series

The two held out for most of spring training – 30 plus days.

The 32-day boycott persisted almost to the end of spring training. During the “war of nerves,” Koufax cranked up the pressure by telling the press that he and Drysdale needed time to “reflect on what we want to do with ourselves if we don’t play this season or ever again.” Furious that his star pitchers were guilty of the heresy of bargaining with him through an agent, the Dodgers’ owner, Walter O’Malley, sputtered, “Baseball is an old-fashioned game with old-fashioned traditions.”

Then Drysdale, anxious about supporting his family, told his partner he could hold out no longer. Koufax, who suffered from an arthritic left elbow and was secretly planning to quit at the end of the 1966 season, let Drysdale inform management that they wanted to settle. Drysdale finally told Bavasi, “I’ll sign for $110,000 and Sandy will sign for $125,000.” (In 2014 figures, this would still be less than a million dollars for each pitcher.)

Now we have a Player’s Association and everyone has an agent.

Koufax did retire around the same time I went to college.  Drysdale pitched until 1969.  Koufax as elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, Drysdale in 1984.  But beyond  being remembered their pitching talent, today’s sports figures should thank them for taking that first step.

Koufax’s new salary was nearly the same as that of Willie Mays, the best-paid man in baseball. Concerned about possible holdouts by other players, Bavasi insisted the following year that the Koufax-Drysdale tactics “only worked because the greatest pitcher in baseball was in on it,” and vowed, “It will never happen again.”

But Bavasi was wrong. The holdout changed the relationship between baseball management and players, paving the way for the big money game of our day. Just after the standoff ended, Arthur Daley of The New York Times called the settlement “baseball’s first collective bargaining arrangement,” writing, “There are aspects of unionism to it and no one in this sport of rugged individualists ever was confronted with such a thing before.” Koufax later agreed that his partnership with Drysdale was like a labor union — “a very small union, just the two of us, Don and myself.”

Drysdale died much too young in 1993, but Koufax still works with the Dodgers and just this spring was the catcher to Vin Scully’s first pitch.

Photograph:  espn.go.com