Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick called on Market Basket employees to return to work Wednesday, saying he's spoken with both sides and a deal is in the works.
Patrick said he has spoken with former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and Market Basket board Chairman Keith Cowan and both sides have an understanding or are very close to a sale price. In a statement, Patrick added he had also spoken with Arthur S. and
"I can report that I have spoken with the chair of the board, I have spoken with Arthur T. Demoulas, and I think everybody is interested in a sale," he said. "My understanding is they either have an understanding or are very close to a price."
Patrick, however, clearly is taking the side of the three Market Basket directors who've urged employees to return to work, even before there is any assurance Arthur T. Demoulas will be restored as CEO.
"Frankly, my greatest concern right now is with the people who work for Market Basket, the associates," Patrick said. "They have it entirely within their power to stabilize the company by going back to work, and I hope that they can see a way to do that while the buyer and seller work out the final terms of the transaction ... I think it's important for the workers to understand, 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, all the customers, the communities in which the shops operate, by doing so."
The independent members of the Market Basket board of directors issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying they agree with Patrick's call for employees to return to work.
"Today, we applaud Governor Patrick’s statement encouraging all Associates to return to work as soon as possible," the statement said. "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."
Protesting workers are demanding Arthur T. Demoulas's reinstatement as CEO. He was fired in June by a board controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and has been attempting to buy the company.
A statement posted Wednesday on the "We Are Market Basket" website, a pro-Arthur T. Demoulas blog and social media account, said the workers have no intention of complying with Patrick's request.
"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."
Across social media accounts, the overwhelming reaction of Arthur T. Demoulas supporters and customers boycotting in solidarity with them seemed to be anger at the governor siding completely with the three so-called independent directors and asking them to surrender their leverage -- the job action -- and principles with no guarantee they get the one and only thing they've been demanding for the last four weeks: The return of "Artie T" as CEO.
Patrick did not address, and did not get asked Wednesday about, questions many people involved in the Market Basket protest have about his wife's connection to the Arthur S. side of the dispute. Diane Patrick is co-managing partner of Ropes & Gray, the powerhouse Boston law firm that represents Arthur S. Demoulas and hosts the board of directors meetings for Market Basket parent Demoulas Supermarkets Inc. As governor of the state where thousands of part-time workers are going without work and pay this week, and where tens of thousands of shoppers have lost access to affordable produce, meat, and other groceries, it's clear the public interest Gov. Patrick sees in resolving the Market Basket battle. The question is whether he can be and be perceived to be completely impartial and a fair deal broker, because of his wife's connection to one faction in the standoff.
Meeting with reporters after a bill signing Wednesday, Gov. Patrick alluded to limitations on what he may be able to achieve. "It's still a private dispute in a private company. Members of the board reached out and asked for some help," Patrick said, "and it's still not entirely sure whether I can."