Gov. Deval Patrick suggested Wednesday that Market Basket employees return to work as Arthur T. Demoulas continues to work to purchase the company.
Patrick said he has spoken with both Keith Cowan, who is the chairman of Market Basket’s board of directors, and Arthur T. Demoulas.
The governor did not seem to have much new information about a possible deal, telling reporters, “You probably know as much as I do about the latest.’’ He said he gathered from his conversations that a deal remains in the works. Patrick also said price is not at issue in a potential deal, but that financing terms might be, echoing previous statements from both sides of the Demoulas family.
Arthur T. Demoulas, the former CEO of Market Basket and still a major shareholder in the company, is attempting with his family members to buy out rival shareholders, including his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, for control of the company. Negotiations between the two sides have stretched for weeks as customers have boycotted stores and many workers have left their jobs in protest of Demoulas’s June firing.
Hundreds of protesting employees who hold headquarters and warehouse positions are in danger of losing their jobs on Friday if they do not return to them. Patrick said it was in the “best interest of workers’’ to return to those positions. “They have it entirely within their power to go back to work,’’ he said.
Over the course of the summer, protesting employees have repeatedly said they will not return to Market Basket unless Arthur T. is leading it. On the Save Market Basket Facebook page, which has served as an organizing center for the employee and customer movement, protesters doubled down on that message following Patrick’s comments, writing:
“For the few who may be confused, our message remains clear: we will go back to work when Arthur T Demoulas goes back to work with full authority or when the deal is in place to sell him the company. We will not go back to work when the Governor, the Board or any other entity tells us to.’’
The independent members of the board of directors, a group that includes Cowan and is said to side with Arthur S., issued a statement praising Patrick’s call for workers to return to their jobs. Their statement read in part:
“Today, we applaud Governor Patrick’s statement encouraging all Associates to return to work as soon as possible. We, as Independent Board members, cannot force any shareholders to buy or to sell, nor can we control the timing of their decisions. All we seek is to get our Associates back to work earning a steady income so our customers can go back to shopping. In return, we can’t offer a resolution to the deal negotiations, but have and will continue to offer a way to return to normal while negotiations continue. Playing with fire that will hurt us all – Associates, customers, and communities – is a no-win situation, and we all need it to end.’’
The independent members have previously called for workers to return while negotiations continue. That proposal would allow Arthur T. to play a non-CEO role in stabilizing the company, and for fired and resigned management-level employees to return to their jobs as well. Arthur T. dismissed that proposal as a negotiating tactic that would allow Arthur S.’s side to put the company on stable footing before selling it to another bidder.
Patrick attracted the ire of protesting workers and customers for weeks for not speaking out about the dispute at the company. He chimed in with a letter to the company’s board last Friday, calling the situation “out of hand.’’Patrick said in the letter that he would not take a side, but offered to help solve the standoff that has brought the grocery chain’s operations to a crawl.
On social media, protesters have voiced issue with the fact that Patrick’s wife works for the legal firm Ropes & Gray, which works with Market Basket’s board. Patrick has said he was unaware Ropes & Gray worked with the board until somebody brought it up to him, and that his wife’s “firm’s clients have no bearing on my decisions and never have,’’ according to The Lowell Sun.
The independent board members’ full statement is below:
“We have now gone five days since we offered a solution that would return everyone back to work to support the Company including the former management team. To date, we still have not received a response.
Today, we applaud Governor Patrick’s statement encouraging all Associates to return to work as soon as possible. We, as Independent Board members, cannot force any shareholders to buy or to sell, nor can we control the timing of their decisions. All we seek is to get our Associates back to work earning a steady income so our customers can go back to shopping. In return, we can’t offer a resolution to the deal negotiations, but have and will continue to offer a way to return to normal while negotiations continue. Playing with fire that will hurt us all – Associates, customers, and communities – is a no-win situation, and we all need it to end.
It’s well past the time when anyone can frame the crisis as “us vs. them,’’ or a “family feud.’’ There are too many families being impacted by this. Rather, for good or ill, many are being asked to sacrifice their pay, their jobs, and their ability to shop at affordable prices in their own neighborhoods, against the hope that it will help one side achieve a preferred business deal rather than another. No one should ever hold 25,000 associates, 2 million shoppers and our local economies as leverage in a business negotiation.
It is time to get everyone back to work. It’s been five days since we last proposed a solution that would work toward getting everyone back and bring the crisis to an end. That’s five days too long, and now time is running out.’’