BOSTON — Fired Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas rejected a plan by three members of the grocery chain’s board of directors Friday that would have him return and help get the beleaguered chain back to normal operations.
In a statement Friday, the three board members said their proposal would let ex-CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and his former management team return to the company, but not take control, as he continues to try to buy a controlling stake.
Demoulas was fired in June by the board, which is controlled by his rival cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.
“There is no reason not to meet in the middle,” the three directors said in a statement. “Mr. Demoulas gets his management team back in place, associates can get back to doing their job, customers can get back to shopping and the company gets the breathing room needed to create an orderly and productive way forward.”
A spokeswoman for the former CEO said in response Friday that the offer is merely an attempt to have him stabilize the company, which has reportedly lost tens of millions of dollars in business since he was fired, while board members consider selling it to another bidder.
“It is disingenuous to issue a press release at 5:30 on a Friday, from the ‘Independent Directors’ all of whom were appointed by Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family, announcing that they have invited him to rejoin the company but not as CEO,” spokeswoman Justine Griffin said. “On three separate occasions … including as recently as yesterday, Arthur T. has offered in writing and otherwise to try to bring back his entire management team to work to stabilize the company. Each offer was rejected.”
Since he was fired, thousands of Market Basket workers and customers have rallied to pressure management to reinstate Arthur T. Demoulas or accept his offer to buy the New England company.
Over the past two weeks, hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers have refused to make deliveries to the family-owned chain’s 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, leaving stores with many empty shelves and almost no customers.
On Thursday, Market Basket announced it was reducing or eliminating hours for its part-time workers, including 270 in Biddeford, the chain’s only store in Maine.
The three board members, part of the seven-member board, said they made their offer to Arthur T. Demoulas several days ago. On Sunday he had offered to return as CEO while sale talks continue.
“Any delay to reaching agreement on this path forward simply harms associates, customers and the company,” the three board members said. “It is time to move on.”
Griffin said in a press release that the board should accept Arthur T. Demoulas’ offer to return as CEO.
“This is far too serious a situation for these games and attempts at window dressing,” she wrote. “It is a serious issue that deserves a serious solution.”
Brandon Gould, a merchandiser at the Biddeford Market Basket, said employees who Arthur T. Demoulas to return don’t like the offer, either.
“I don’t believe this is a very positive move,” Gould said Friday night. “I just don’t see him (Demoulas) as being able to work with the management that the board of directors has put in place.”
Gould said disruptions at the distribution center in Tewksbury, Mass., are leading to more empty shelves. He said the Biddeford store normally gets 15 to 16 tractor-trailer loads of produce and nine of groceries each week. This past week, he said, the store received one trailer of groceries that was half full and one of produce that was a third full – and some of the produce had to be thrown out because it was beyond its sell-by date.
He said the customer count has plummeted. The normal flow of business is 20,000 customers a week, Gould said, and last week it was 2,265.
“The decisions being made are really hurting the company now,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick urged Market Basket’s board of directors to quickly resolve the leadership question. In a letter to the board, Patrick wrote that he’s not choosing sides but, “by any measure, the disruption that followed your recent change in CEO has gotten out of hand.”
Patrick offered any help he or members of his senior staff can supply to find a solution to the dispute roiling the company.
“I am appealing to you to consider as well the broader implications and impact of your decision and resolve it soon, so that economic peace is restored and the workers’ future is secure,” Patrick wrote.
The three board members said they welcome the chance to meet with Patrick and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan for help in ending the impasse.