Saturday, January 26, 2008

NLRB Issues Complaint Against Basha's, Inc.

Friday morning, I had the honor of demonstrating in front of Basha's human rights HQ along with about 100 or so workers and supporters. These included several workers summarily fired for union-related activities, who came to ask to meet with management, and the Rev. Trina Zelle. Zelle is this year's recipient of Tempe's Martin Luther King award for her contributions individually and through Interfaith Worker Justice to defending the rights and dignity of poor workers, most of them of course minorities.

For years, Basha's, Inc.--corporate owner of three tiers of grocery stores and a few assorted other food/beverage venues in Arizona (mainly)--has been engaged in a no-holds-barred war against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

I take it as a measure of their relative influence that nearly every online search produced the only grocer's point of view, and even the Valley's leading alternative paper, The New Times, chose to print a negative review of the UFCW's war, calling it "dirty tricks." To which I say, yeah, right.

If your reasoning faculties have lately diminished, or you've taken a short flight from sanity, and doubt there's a class system in the USA, Basha's, Inc. can set you right. Just visit, in order, an AJ's, a Basha's, and a Food City.

AJ's markets to the best. Er, well, no. AJ's markets to the wealthiest. (Not the same thing at all.) The AJ's stores are very upscale large gourmet food stores, each with a huge wine cellar, a boulangerie, a bistro, a farmer's market, a butchery and seafood department, and so much more, all beautifully presented. The staff are knowledgeable, crisply attired, and seen but not heard unless questioned.

At an AJ's, everything from floor to ceiling and in between is crystal-clean, sparkling, and fresh as a sunrise. The counters, racks, and bins are as if designed by Thomasville--lots of the Olde Woode look to convey a manorial theme in keeping with the prices. The fresh produce assortment looks like a set from a European fresh-air market, with a truly enchanting assortment, a diversity of potatoes and lettuces and tomatoes and fruits and beans and things that most of us never knew exist. In fact, you could spend a morning just cruising an AJs and have a marvelous time.

Basha's, the mid-tier stores, are your ordinary model. These are the grocery stores we grew up with, before high-end, designer grocery marketing came along. They're clean and utilitarian, well lighted and pleasant enough for the ordeal of family grocery shopping. There you'll find laundry and cleaning products, cards and magazines, beer and wine and booze, and the usual assortment of meats and produce that America has always grown up with. Oh, there might be the odd persimmon or, here in the Southwest, eight varieties of chile pepper, but the emphasis is on supplying the kitchens, pantries, laundries, bathrooms, and tables of Middle America. I wouldn't recommend spending a morning on a Basha's tour, but I'm sure I've matronized a Basha's a time or two for my routine shopping.

And now, visit a Food City. You'll know by the look of the place, before you even enter the store, that you're headed for a venue that markets to the food stamp people, the working poor--which, here, means mostly the Hispanic working poor.

I can't get graphic because I've heard of Basha's wild mongoose approach to criticism. Just now, it is relying on a personal law suit of not just human rights organizations, UFCW, and its Local 99, but also of both individual activists and sometimes even their spouses. Currently, these include community activists, news organizations, a local elected official, and religious leaders like the Rev. Trina Zelle and her husband, the Rev. Phil Reller, not exactly disreputable loose lips.

I will say that once the condition of a Food City meat/seafood area was so offensive that I called out the manager and walked him personally through it. I didn't mask my disgust and anger. Needless to say, I didn't buy anything.

Anglos wouldn't recognize half the products or produce in a Food City here. Much of the canned and bottled and other goods are Mexican brands, and the household goods, produce, meat, and poultry cuts also cater to a Mexican clientele. The liquor is locked away behind glass doors, but there's plenty of beer, up close and personal.

This is nothing new to inner-city dwellers anywhere. The crummiest of the chain grocery store outlets are always in the poor people's neighborhoods. Liberties that wouldn't occur at even a Basha's, much less an AJ's, can no doubt be taken with Food City customers because the people have no power, no recourse, no contacts, and no leverage.

Recently, after a lengthy investigation by the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB)Phoenix office, the agency issued a complaint--the administrative equivalent of a civil indictment--against Basha's, Inc. for more than 70 individual allegations of federal labor law violations. The complaint comes on the heels of a recent finding by a federal administration law judge that Basha's, Inc., broke the law by failing to recognize UFCW Local 99 as the respresentative of workers at nine of its stores.

The allegations include many standard union-busting techniques--threats, intimidation, intimations of surveillance, etc. In fact, we demonstrated on Friday to support workers who wanted to meet with management to protest the latest: a decision to outsource their jobs on a mere two days' notice. I understand that, not coincidentally, most if not all of these Hispanic and African American men had been among those seeking to work with management to address the company's corporate practices.

They were not met with on Friday.

I'll be doing my shopping elsewhere.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been in Food City stores that were much better and cleaner than nearby Safeways, and Safeway is union.

Pico said...

Thank you for commenting.

I'm not surprised. It's not about unions. It's about management's vision and priorities. It's about the sacrifice of ethics to the bottom line, the subordination of the American corporation to Wall Street.

For the last 30 years, unions have steadily declined in power, and the country has veered sharply to the Right. It's not a coincidence that corporate preying on the people has increased without consequence.

IMHO, when we regain our moral footing, our common sense, and remember that either we can worship money or we can worship sound ethical and moral principles, and choose the latter this will change. And not until.

It takes everyone in the community to teach recalcitrant corporations that doing it right the first time is cheaper and more profitable in the end.

Anonymous said...

Ever checked out their record of employees injured on the job?

PICO said...

Thank you for commenting.

No, I haven't. If you have, I'd really love it if you'd say more. What did you find? What city was this? What can we learn?

Anonymous said...

Sweet web site, I had not noticed wildchihuahuas.blogspot.com before in my searches!
Carry on the fantastic work!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PICO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at wildchihuahuas.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
Jack

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PICO said...

Sorry, but if it's down for you, it's also down for us.
Ket me know if you find a mirror.
Thanks,
Pico

PICO said...

Hi guys. I just Googled NLRG and Basha's. There's plenty out there.
Have a look-see.
Thanks,
Pico