retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Boston Globe reports that Market Basket co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch have issued a statement saying that employees protesting the removal of their predecessor, Arthur T. Demoulas, must return to work by Monday, August 4, or face replacement by new employees. The company said it will shortly conduct a job fair to get replacements lined up.

The statement reads:

“We want Market Basket associates back to work and reiterate that they can return without fear of penalty. We again acknowledge and understand how difficult this situation has been for associates. However, we also need to have associates working to support stores, customers and vendors. We need associates to return to work on Monday August 4th. We understand that some associates may choose not to return, consequently we will begin advertising for employment opportunities. Our hope and strong preference is to have Market Basket’s incredible associates return to work. Again, any associate that wants to return will be welcomed and not penalized.”

The Globe notes that "employees have thus far stayed adamant in their demand that Arthur T. Demoulas be reinstated as CEO, shrugging off previous calls from management to return the business to its normal operations … Most store managers have signed a petition saying they will resign if Demoulas is not ultimately brought back as the chain’s leader."

(Just to reiterate, in case you are just joining us … The longtime family feud boiled over with the move by Arthur S. Demoulas, to oust CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, his cousin, due to a conflict over the company’s finances. The fight is characterized differently by the two sides. The Arthur S. Demoulas faction argues that Arthur T. Demoulas spends money irresponsibly and refuses to take direction from the board. The Arthur T. Demoulas side maintains that his cousin is fueled by greed, only interested in raising prices, cutting employee compensation, and threatening the formula that has built the company to a New England success story. To be fair, though, this is a battle that goes back decades, and that is beginning to resemble the Hatfields and the McCoys .. except in this case, the townsfolk - meaning the vast majority of employees - have sided with Arthur T., responding with protests and systematic slowdowns of shipments to the company's stores, which have left many of the units almost empty of both food and customers. Got it?)
KC's View:
There was, by the way, an interesting column in the Wall Street Journal op-ed section yesterday by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in which he suggested that the news media might have over-romanticized this battle as good vs. evil, which I think may have some merit to it. It is possible, as Holman suggests, that Arthur T. Demoulas is not as blameless in this story as some would suggest, and that the board is behaving quite properly.

But, if this is the case, then the board and Arthur S. Demoulas need to get better advice on the public relations front. Because in the court of public opinion, they are getting a good old-fashioned whipping.