By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Gov. Deval Patrick, who has been reluctant to insert himself into the corporate power struggle at Market Basket, took the unexpected step on Friday of writing to the board of directors urging them to resolve the dispute that has caused thousands of workers to walk off the job.
Describing the current situation as "out of hand," Patrick offered himself to help mediate a resolution, but said he would not choose between Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas, the feuding cousins at the center of the dispute.
"By any measure, the disruption that followed your recent change in CEO has gotten out of hand, and I am writing to urge you to find a prompt resolution," Patrick wrote to the seven directors, including Arthur S. Demoulas.
Hundreds of workers continue to refuse to show up to work until Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated as CEO. During the worker action, shelves in the supermarket's stores have gone empty with deliveries of perishable products occurring sporadically, if at all, and loyal customers attracted to the supermarket's low prices have been forced to shop elsewhere.
This week many part-time Market Basket employees had their hours cut back or eliminated in response to the low customer volume and Attorney General Martha Coakley opened a hotline to respond to a high volume of questions from workers about their rights.
The company is weighing offers to purchase a majority stake in the chain, including one from ousted CEO Arthur T.
"I do not express a view about who the CEO of Market Basket should be. I do not believe that is the appropriate role of government or a governor, although I have been criticized by some for that view. However, I also believe that your failure to resolve this matter is not only hurting the company's brand and business, but also many innocent and relatively powerless workers whose livelihoods depend on you," Patrick wrote.
While the governor has assiduously sought to avoid choosing sides in the despite, he recently wrote to a constituent who had contacted his office about the situation expressing "great respect" for Arthur T. Demoulas.
"I have great respect for the former CEO and am awed by the relationship he has built with his colleagues. Surely, the board must see, through the actions of Market Basket workers, that his presence adds value. But, like it or not, government has no power to declare that a private company should choose one CEO over another," Patrick wrote.
The constituent response letter was provided to the News Service in response to a question about First Lady Diane Patrick's law firm Ropes & Gray and their involvement with the Market Basket ownership fight.
In the letter, the governor addresses the question of whether he has been reluctant to become involved because of a conflict of interest with his wife's law firm, where Diane Patrick is a co-managing partner and labor attorney.
"Frankly, until someone raised that claim, I didn't even know my wife's firm had any involvement with the company. Her firm's clients have no bearing on my decisions and never have," Patrick wrote.
The governor goes on to say that Ropes & Gray does not represent the company, but has done work for a board committee.
A spokesman for Ropes & Gray did not respond to a call seeking clarification on the firm's business relationship with Market Basket.
The governor, in the constituent letter, also rebutted claims he said he has heard that his restraint over Market Basket was a political calculation. "I am not running for anything, and have a strong track record that demonstrates political considerations have never restrained me from my conviction," he said.
Differentiating the Market Basket situation from a dispute several years ago between Hyatt hotels and their housekeeping staff during which Patrick urged a boycott of Hyatt, the governor said the Hyatt case was one involving the mistreatment of workers by management.
"The dispute was not who should manage the organization, but the inherent unfairness of their employment practices. In this case, while the choice of CEO has real consequences for people, it is not a matter of inherent unfairness," Patrick wrote.