Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boston Burrito Battle – “Union Rackets?”

By now you’ve likely heard about the Great Boston Burrito Battle of 2011.  It was covered with a light tone by both the Globe and the Herald this weekend.  If you missed it, here’s the capsule summary:

burrito battleBoston Mayor’s office wants to kick off its new bike-sharing initiative with a public event.  Mayor’s office calls up Boloco, a local burrito chain with a reputation for community involvement, and says something like, “Hey!  The mayah really likes your burritos.  Think you could throw some our way for this bike thing?”  And Boloco responds with something like, “Sure!” and commences assembly of 200 burritos for which the chain sought no compensation other than some free publicity.  All good so far.

But then the day of the burrito drop rolls around, and Boloco gets a call from the City asking if they have a permit to give out free burritos.  Boloco responds with something like “Are you $&!*~(@ kidding me?” at which point the City threatens to shut down the Boloco outlet where the burritos are being assembled. 

This is where it gets really interesting.  It seems Boloco’s CEO has a Twitter account.  And this guy, John Pepper, isn’t one of those CEOs who let’s some kid in the mail room send out Tweets in his name.  Mr. Pepper does his own Tweetin’, and he has no rule against Tweetin’ angry.  Feeling, um, under-appreciated by the city and its overbearing bureaucrats, Mr. Pepper lets fly a stream of frustrated cyber-ventilation, including this gem:

How a city can thank businesses for supporting its civic efforts with rudeness, threats, and disrespect has us reeling today… Not staying quiet any longer. Between the union rackets, bureaucracy, red tape, and lack of graciousness, it’s a wonder anything gets done.

Mayor Menino did not appreciate Pepper’s public airing of grievances.  Commenting to the Globe, Menino did his best Back to the Future Biff impression: “He wants to blog, make news?  OK, you do your blog.” 

No, really, he said that - the clear implication being that Hizz Honah’s response would come via a less public medium.  Sure enough, the two had a telephone conversation and Pepper’s subsequent remarks to the Globe were… somewhat less incendiary than his earlier Tweets.  “I think he thinks I could have gone about this in a more positive manner,” Pepper remarked, referring to the Mayor. 

All of this was fun, and not very consequential in the grand scheme of things.  And I am guessing that after his one-on-one with the Mayor, Mr. Pepper has reconsidered his disavowal of “staying quiet.” 

Still, isn’t anyone in the Boston media interested in finding out what Pepper meant by “union rackets”?  The Globe editorialized about the burrito brouhaha today, but apparently did not think the union reference worth mentioning.


  1. Dan,

    In general, I think you and most agree that this situation doesn't warrant any more attention... 2 tweets of frustration and a "thank you" contest on Facebook do not a story make... not a real story anyway.

    BUT, an apology is due for a general reference I made last Thursday night to "union rackets" without further explanation, which you have pointed out. I've shared this with a few others, but thought it appropriate to post here.

    I recognize as well as anyone that organized labor has been instrumental in so much of what makes this country and city great. For Boloco, union members are not only our valued customers, but have literally helped build our business as we've expanded across Boston, using predominantly union labor along the way. Sadly, a couple of labor organizations have taken to protesting our and other Boston retail businesses when they weren’t selected for certain jobs... and their tactics would irk even the strongest of union supporters. They often come armed with signs and statements that are inflammatory, untrue, and have nothing to do with the complaint itself. And yes, their actions have been harmful to our and other small businesses in Boston.

    My reference to "union rackets" in my tweet of 4/21/11 was to these situations in particular, and I in no way meant to criticize the labor movement or "unions" generally, or union members as individuals, who are such an important part of our communities. Unions had absolutely nothing to do with the incident reported in the Globe and the Herald and I shouldn't have tied the two together. While damage has clearly been done and apologies and clarification go only a very short distance with something so sensitive, this is the one statement I have made, because of its general and therefore misleading nature, for which I am truly sorry.

    I hope that gives some context... for what it's worth.

    Onward ;)

    John P.

  2. Thanks, John, for the comment. And thanks for shining a light - even temporarily - on the heavy-handedness of the Menino regime. I have friends who do business in Boston who tell stories in private that curl the hair, but which they of course never dare to voice in any sort of public way. If angry tweeting = honest tweeting, then here's to more angry tweeting.


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