By Matt Murphy and Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- The supermarket saga that dominated summer headlines ended Thursday morning as ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas took back the reins of Market Basket and employees returned to work after feuding factions of the Demoulas family reached a deal to sell the company.
Arthur T. Demoulas, who had been ousted by his cousin Arthur S. after he gained a slim majority of support on the company's board, reached a deal late Wednesday night to purchase his cousin's shares in Market Basket for more than $1.5 billion.
"Market Basket is an important company with important employees in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and an important local resource. I am delighted they have found an agreement both on the terms of sales and the operations," Gov. Deval Patrick said during a conference call on Thursday morning.
Patrick, who at first resisted getting involved in the private corporate feud, gathered the parties for a meeting in Springfield with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan on Aug. 18 and said he stayed in close contact during negotiations.
Following the passage of an internal deadline to reach a deal last Sunday, Patrick said he took part in an "all-in" conference call Monday morning during which he prodded both sides to reach agreement, but resisted overtures to help arbitrate details of the final agreement. One of the sticking points, according to the governor, was the agreement to allow Arthur T.
"I don't want to over or understate it," Patrick said, when asked about his involvement. "There was a point at which they were arguing details through us, details of both the stock purchase agreement and the interim operating agreements and when we got to the interim operating agreement, I said I can't arbitrate this."
Patrick said he did, however, urge both sides to set a deadline for an agreement, and both he and Hassan urged the Market Basket board to "stay their hand" as they considered whether to shutter some stores until a deal was reached to stop the financial bleeding. Patrick said both he and Hassan probed them to keep stores open as long as progress was being made toward a deal.
"There was a point at which it seemed like it wasn't going to happen," Patrick said, later adding that he thought Market Basket could return to its previous stature. "I think they'll pull together. It will take them a little while to get up and running."
Arthur T., making the return as head of the family supermarket chain, thanked his loyal supporters Thursday after securing a deal to buy out his cousin's share.
"Because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose, and may we always remember this past summer, first as a time where our collected values of loyalty, courage and kindness for one another really prevailed, and in that process we just happened to save our company," Demoulas said in a speech to supporters in Tewksbury carried live on television.
The outpouring of loyalty by the non-union workforce, which included posters of Arthur T. and T-shirts, surprised many as talks dragged on through the summer. The owners finally signed off on a plan to sell the majority of the company's shares Wednesday night to Arthur T. for a reported financing package of $1.5 billion, including cash and a $500 million loan from a private equity firm.
"It was not about a family conflict or a Greek tragedy... but more about fairness, justice and a solid moral compass that unites the human soul," Demoulas said.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, who opened a dedicated hotline for Market Basket employees to ensure their labor rights were protected, issued a statement Thursday calling the deal a "victory for the employees and the communities that Market Basket serves."
"The willingness of the workers to stand together and put their jobs on the line has been truly inspiring, and today their voices have been heard. Now, the work starts anew to return Market Basket to the vibrant local company and community partner that it has always been, and will be again," Coakley said.
A spokesman for the attorney general, who is running for governor, said the office received over 1,000 calls from Market Basket employees, including about 50 wage or labor complaints that are currently under review.
Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat and candidate for treasurer, rallied to the side of Market Basket employees early on in the process, and on Thursday commended the willingness to risk their jobs in order to "protect their company.
"I am overjoyed that the same Market Basket so many of us have relied on will continue to serve our families. The boycott is officially over and it is time for all of us customers to return to the Market Baskets stores," Finegold said in statement.