Friday, October 03, 2014
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick is urging Market Basket employees to go back to work while a deal to sell the chain is hammered out.
Patrick told reporters Wednesday that he spoke with ousted former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. He also spoke with Market Basket Board Chairman Keith O. Cowan and with Arthur S. Demoulas.
“I think everybody is interested in a sale,” Patrick said. “My understanding is they either have an understanding or are very close to a price.”
Protesting workers are demanding that Arthur T. Demoulas be reinstated. He was fired in June by a board controlled by his rival cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and has been negotiating to buy the company.
The governor said his greatest concern is the supermarket chain workers. He said it’s worrisome that “associates who are basically powerless in this may be held hostage to a private dispute, frankly within a family.”
“I don’t think that’s appropriate and I think it’s important for the shareholders to know that I and others don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said.
Patrick also said that it’s entirely within the power of protesting employees to stabilize the company by going back to work.
“I think it’s important for the workers to understand, for the associates to understand, that they can go right back to work and they would do a service to the people served by Market Basket,” he said. “Usually companies are able to buy and sell each other without workers walking off the job and saying they’re not going to work unless they get the boss of their choice.”
Three members of the seven-member Market Basket board, including Cowan, issued a statement late Wednesday applauding Patrick’s call for employees to return to work.
“All we seek is to get our Associates back to work earning a steady income so our customers can go back to shopping,” the statement read. “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.”
Patrick had largely stayed out of the high-profile dispute until last Friday when he wrote to Market Basket’s board of directors urging them to quickly resolve the leadership question. In a letter to the board, Patrick wrote that he’s not choosing sides but, “by any measure, the disruption that followed your recent change in CEO has gotten out of hand.”
At the time Patrick also offered any help he or members of his senior staff could supply to find a solution to the dispute roiling the company.
Patrick said members of the board took him up on the offer and reached out to him.
He described the tone of his separate conversations with the chairman of the board and with Arthur T. Demoulas as “civil and respectful” even as he acknowledged that the issues that divide the ownership of the supermarket chain run deep.
On Tuesday, Market Basket said it had sent a final notice to those distribution and headquarters workers protesting the firing of Demoulas to return to work by Friday.
The company said Tuesday that letters were sent to about 200 workers it says haven’t reported to work since July 17. The company said earlier workers who didn’t return by Aug. 4 would be replaced, and held job fairs last week.
Thousands of employees have protested, and some customers have boycotted. The distribution interruption left most of the company’s 71 stores empty of meat and produce. The chain has stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
The offer from Arthur T. Demoulas for the private company has not been disclosed, but an industry publication has estimated the company’s value at up to $3.5 billion.