Unions across the country watched the Market Basket workers revolt unfold, and some say it is like nothing anyone has seen before in modern U.S. labor history. Some suggest that the Market basket case study could affect how they organize.

From the very beginning of the organized effort by Market Basket employees to bring back their beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, the union has been involved.

"When the workers started to take action many of them contacted us," said Audra Makuch, assistant director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), representing more than 15,000 workers in New England. "During the walkout, the union set up a fund to help laid-off workers. The UFCW cooperates with workers in both union and non-union supermarkets."

None of Market Basket's 71 stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are unionized, and an undetermined number of Market Basket employees who walked off the job would like it to stay that way.

"I’m senior management," one man told me. "And what union invites senior management into their fold? Senior management is out here with the rank and file. A union wouldn’t work for us."

But here’s the problem says Makuch: "Many Market Basket workers start at minimum wage."

But experienced Market Basket cashiers reportedly earn over $40,000 a year, which is $20,000 more than most around the country. But Makuch says “experienced” is the caveat.

"Part-time workers have no benefits," she added. "No sick days, no vacation days, and no health insurance. Nothing that a unionized worker has."

The UFCW successfully organized Stop and Shop workers in Massachusetts when that formerly family-owned business was purchased by a European firm. The union negotiated what it calls a living wage and health care benefits for Stop and Shop workers. But a Market Basket employee, during the recent walkout, made clear that these are not the issues or the principal reason that brought thousands of workers out of supermarket aisles and into the streets.

"We’re not looking for more money," the employee said. "We’re not looking for better benefits. We’re not looking for anything like that. All we want is our CEO back, Arthur T. Demoulas."

And that’s what the workers got. They won. So we ask this question: Even though many Market Basket employees have not signed onto the idea of joining a union, could the example they set represent a new model for union organizing?

"Absolutely," said Thomas Kochan, professor of employment research at MIT Sloan School of Management. "It illustrates that there is tremendous frustration out there in the American workforce. And there is tremendous motivation to have a positive mission to rally around and find new ways to represent the employees. Does it undermine the role of unions? Well know, I don’t think so, unless unions stick to only the traditional forms of organizing."

To understand why the Market Basket walkout and settlement might be instructive for labor unions, one might turn the clock back 11 years to 2003 in Southern California. Seventy thousand grocery store workers went on strike that year in a dispute over health-care benefits and slashed wages. The supermarket strike was supposed to last a month, but it dragged on for more than half a year.

The strike ended in a major defeat for the union after other supermarkets banded together with the targeted chain and locked out its workers. Mediation failed. Replacements were brought in. But perhaps the main factor that crippled the grocery store strike of 2003 was tepid support from the public.

Contrast the lack of public support for California’s grocery store workers with the atmosphere that greeted Market Basket employees outside the Somerville store on Thursday.

"So glad that it’s back," said Steve Zecker. "The employees are very happy. Very helpful. The customers are happy. It would be nice if all stores were like this."

Zecker, who lives in the neighborhood, is all smiles. He counts himself and his wife as staunch supporters of the Market Basket workers here.

Manuel Bonifacio from the Azores in Portugal is also a loyal customer. He says he supports workers because they’re the salt of the earth, but he’s far less poetic about the role of unions.

"I don’t think so," he said. "I don’t think so, because the management and the upper management, they are people that consider the value of employees — gave them respect."

But Zecker is of two minds when asked his view about the benefits of union representation at this supermarket.

"It’s been great before without a union, but if there are other people running the store, than maybe a union is what’s needed to protect everybody," he said.

And Mike DelloRusso, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), says those eventualities are precisely why Market Basket workers and management would benefit from a union.

"If they had had a collective bargaining agreement, they would have had the full support of the National Labor Relations Board," he said. "They would have had support from other union organizations. More people would have stepped in to support them."

But Delerusso also believes that the Market Basket shutdown, which forced a resolution of a difficult impasse mired in money and pride, is instructive for unions.

"In this case I thought it was very unusual that they got so much public support and they were so covered by the local news media that they really didn’t need that kind of organization," he said.

The Market Basket rallies were noisy and at times indistinguishable from a union picket line. But the line between worker and management was obliterated. This decidedly was not an Occupy Wall Street kind of protest.

Rather it was akin to the 99 percent supporting the 1 percent, or at least one member of that vaunted class of American billionaires, Arthur T. Demoulas. While the Market Basket walkout was not an Occupy movement kind of protest, the grievances were similar, says Kochan, who is writing a case study on the now resolved conflict.

"I think the reason this resonated so widely in the American public is because there is a concern for inequality and a concern for fairness and a recognition that employees can contribute to the bottom line, but they then have to receive their fair share of the profits that they help to generate," Kochan said. "That’s the key message here."

But Rand Wilson, communications head of the SEIU, says that the notion of a benevolent CEO in the American workforce has its limits. He argues, in essence, that the bottom line in business is the territory where altruistic principals and moneyed ambitions collide.

However one sees it, Kochan says the Market Basket dispute will linger in the public imagination for many years to come as we continue to try to negotiate the space between the role of unions and non-unions in American society, and the tug of war over the public’s support.