A brief message for the Arthur Demoulas cousins: Enough.
It’s time for both Arthurs to stop using Market Basket employees as pawns in their very personal power struggle. The longer the battle between Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas drags on — and who really knows how long that could be — the more damage may be inflicted on the people in this story who can least afford it.
Everyone who has not been living under a rock knows the Market Basket story by now. The protests and walkouts by employees who want Arthur T. — their ousted boss — back in charge of the supermarket chain have been something to behold.
The sentiments of the rank and file are clearly genuine. Their loyalty and desire to defend a kind of workplace that seems to defy the grinding modern standards of corporate America strike chords with nearly everyone.
But here’s the thing: The name of this fight is still Demoulas vs. Demoulas. It’s a battle between extremely rich people who love money and hate each other. The walkoffs, rallies, and boycotts — as well as the company’s subsequent threat of hiring replacement workers — are merely weapons of choice for committed enemies.
Arthur T. was the angry former president of a family business before employee protests blew up the company’s normal operations and gave him leverage against his cousin. Now Arthur S. is using the threat of replacement employees to squeeze the people who went to work every day to build Market Basket, something he never did.
Of course, the current standoff poses another kind of financial threat: the permanent impairment of the Market Basket business if progress is not made soon. That would be very unfortunate for the company’s handful of shareholders. But it would be disastrous for many of the 25,000 people who work in the business.
So how can the Market Basket story start moving in the right direction?
For starters, Arthur T. needs to make it clear his offer to buy the 50.5 percent of the business owned by the other side of the Demoulas family can be financed. He needs to say he will quickly top any other offer, if such a thing ever arrives, or accept it and sell his own shares.
Next, Arthur S. needs to step up as a committed seller. He needs to signal that he will swallow hard and accept a full offer from his cousin or find a better bid soon.
These are obvious directions for negotiations. The real sticking points are speed and motivation. It might take months to actually close a transaction, but more serious negotiations could make an agreement in principle possible soon.
One radical idea to put some juice in those talks? Arthur T. can tell Market Basket employees to go back to work and the company can drop the talk about replacing workers. They could do it now.
On paper, these look like dumb moves. Who gives up their leverage before a deal is done?
But in real life, the Market Basket business is getting crushed and it may not be able to recover unless something happens soon. It doesn’t seem possible that owners would stand by and allow that to happen but, in this case, I really don’t know what they will do.
If Arthur T. told workers to go back to stores, they could get the supermarkets up and running at full strength in a few weeks. Value would be restored and the financing of a sale would become easier. It might even lower the negotiating temperature a few degrees.
Arthur T. and his supporters would risk very little if such a good-will tactic failed and sale talks stalled. Events of the past few weeks have demonstrated that workers are ready to heed a call for job actions and such rebellions have the power to cripple Market Basket business. The threat would remain very real.
It’s hard to predict what will happen between the Arthur Demoulas cousins because it’s not just about money. It’s about history. Very bad history.
But Market Basket isn’t just about them either. It’s about all those workers and their families. It’s about customers and communities.