Hopes that swelled over the weekend for a resolution of the five-week-plus Market Basket supermarket standoff collapsed Monday after word that a 10 p.m. Sunday board of directors meeting had been cancelled and no one was predicting when a deal might come together.
A person close to the company’s board of directors said Monday afternoon that ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and a faction association with his cousin-enemy, Arthur S. Demoulas, had agreed on a price and general terms for Arthur T.’s wing of the family to buy the 50.5 percent controlling stake in the company owned by Arthur S. and his sisters and sister-in-law. But talks were hung up, this person said, on the question of who would be in charge of the company between the time a deal was signed and when the sale actually closed. Arthur T.’s supporters have said they will only return to work, and stop urging shoppers to boycott the stores, when Arthur T. Demoulas is back with the full authority of a CEO.
"It’s discouraging today to find that once again, one more thing is being thrown at us by Arthur S. and his so-called independent directors," said protest organizer Joe Garon, a 49-year company veteran.
"Do the right thing: Step up, get this done, finish it so we can get back to doing what we do a love to do, which is take care of the customer," said Rosie Hagopian, an administrative assistant who’s worked for the 71-store chain for 41 years.
More and more, employees and backers of Arthur T. Demoulas are speculating that the endgame for Arthur S. appears to be to agree to sell his family’s stake in the company for as much money as they can – but only after dragging out the sale process as long as possible to inflict as much financial and reputational damage as they can to Demoulas Supermarkets Inc. and create the biggest, costliest mess they can for Arthur T. Demoulas to have to clean up.
"I wish I could look into Arthur S.’s brain and see what was in there," Hagopian said. "What is he thinking? Does he just want to bleed the company till there is absolutely nothing left? That’s what it almost seem like: They just don’t care about anything or anybody."
It’s been widely speculated that the amount of debt Arthur T. Demoulas may have to take on to finance buying out his cousin could jeopardize the combination of super-low prices and generous employee pay, bonuses, and retirement benefits that have turned Market Basket into a $4.6 billion a year juggernaut with some of the best profit margins in the cutthroat supermarket business.
Garon and other protesting employees said they are confident once Arthur T. is back as CEO, they can quickly right the ship, no matter how much damage the company has sustained from weeks of up to 90 percent or bigger drops in sales as customers stay away in solidarity with protesters or because key departments like meat and produce are nearly empty in most stores. "If Artie is here, it could come back very quickly," Garon said. "Give us five days or so. Very quickly, we could be back in business."
With videographer Kenn Tompkins