Governor Deval Patrick on Wednesday urged protesting Market Basket employees to return to work, saying they can help the company while the terms of a sale are negotiated.
The governor said he had spoken to the chairman of Market Basket’s board, Keith O. Cowan, as well as to its ousted president, Arthur T. Demoulas, and believes the two sides have agreed on or are close to a sale price.
“Everybody is interested in a sale,” Patrick told reporters. “Frankly, my greatest concern right now is with the people who work for Market Basket, the associates. They have it entirely within their power to stabilize the company by going back to work, and I hope they can see a way to do that while the buyer and seller work out the final terms of a transaction.”
The regional grocery chain has been paralyzed since July 19, when hundreds of workers from the company’s headquarters and its warehouses walked off the job demanding the reinstatement of Demoulas as the company’s president. In the four weeks since the walkoff, deliveries have slowed to a trickle and customers have fled to other retailers, some out of support for the protesting employees and others deterred by bare shelves in the stores. On July 23, Demoulas said he sought to buy the majority of the company controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.
The sale price is not the only element of a deal being discussed by the company’s majority shareholders and the minority stake controlled by Arthur T. Demoulas, however. In statements earlier in August, the company’s shareholders suggested the terms of the agreement had not been agreed upon, with Arthur T. Demoulas calling some of the terms being sought by his cousin as “onerous.”
Patrick declined to elaborate on the issues that have yet to be resolved. But he expressed hope that the workers who have demanded the return of Arthur T. Demoulas would end their weeks-long standoff at the New England grocery chain.
“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,” he said. “And, frankly, I think everybody involved is disappointed it has to come to this. Now, having said that, I think it’s important for the workers to understand, for the associates to understand: They can go right back to work and they would do a service to the people served by Market Basket, all the customers and the communities where the shops operate, by doing so.”
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the company’s three independent directors applauded Governor Patrick’s remarks. They also sought to prod Arthur T. Demoulas to accept an offer they made Friday that would reinstate him and his top managers to the company but would require them to report to the company’s current chief executives.
Protesters were dismissive of the governor’s calls that they return to work, however. In interviews and social media posts, employees and customers accused the governor of siding with the company’s board of directors and its majority shareholders led by Arthur S. Demoulas.
“His word is nothing to me,” said Ann Rogers, an employee in the company’s accounts payable department who walked out in July. “I want to hear it from Arthur T. I want to see it on the news that he has full control of the company and he’s going to bring that company back to the way it was. Period.”
Meanwhile, about 200 employees of Market Basket’s offices and warehouses who have stopped work, along with truck drivers, received letters warning them to return to work or be fired for job abandonment, according to a spokesman for the company’s co-chief executives.
The workers who received the letters Tuesday were told to return to work by next Monday. About the same number of workers received similar letters on Monday that told them to return to work by Friday or be fired. The spokesman would not say whether more letters were forthcoming but said protesting employees who returned to work would not be punished.