IT’S BECOME increasingly clear that there’s only one way for the Market Basket crisis to end: by bringing back deposed CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to lead the employees in rebuilding the firm. If the board remains unwilling to make the move, even in the face of disastrously declining revenues, other business leaders and Governor Patrick should step in to help negotiate an end to the standoff. On Wednesday, Patrick declined to do so, on the grounds that he would be interfering with a private enterprise. But public leadership sometimes requires the use of a bully pulpit and an appeal to private interests to think of the public good; public officials have often volunteered their services as mediators in private disputes that threaten the greater good. In this case, it’s necessary to make sure that the supermarkets — a vital community resource, particularly in low-income areas that lack other sources of reasonably priced, healthy foods — don’t go out of business.
After three weeks of conflict between the new company leadership and employees, Market Basket loses incremental value every day: The company controller, himself a protesting employee, reportedly said the 71 stores have lost 90 percent of business, and it’s only getting worse. The family feud that led to Arthur T. Demoulas’s dismissal may make for fascinating theater, but it’s time to bring down the curtain. The showdown threatens to destroy thousands of jobs, a great local brand, and a community asset with it.
The latest demonstration at Market Basket’s headquarters in Tewksbury attracted about 10,000 supporters, customers, and employees, who refuse to return to work unless Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated. The former leader, ousted in June, has offered to buy the company. But the board, now controlled by Arthur T.’s cousin and bitter rival Arthur S. Demoulas, has been slow to realize what’s obvious to others: the power of the Demoulas workforce. The only way to start restoring value to the company is to bring employees back. And the only way to do that involves reinstating Arthur T. Instead, current management held a poorly attended job fair early this week, after the co-CEOs threatened to replace protesting workers.
Thomas Kochan, professor of management and co-director of the Institute for Work & Employment Research at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, correctly points out that Market Basket’s leaders are destroying Market Basket’s greatest value, which lies in the cohesive group of employees who have relationships with customers. “These are societal assets that you don’t want to lose,” says Kochan.
In family feuds, logic and reason can go out the window. Demoulas family members are stubbornly sticking to their positions instead of using clear-headed business judgment. It’s time to put that aside and bring in a third party to say to the company leadership: Let’s get this resolved.