Bashas' Defamation Lawsuit Against UFCW Upheld

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Bashas' Defamation Lawsuit Against UFCW Upheld

Bashas' Family of Stores can move forward with its lawsuit against the United Food & Commercial Workers' union and many of its operatives, according to a decision handed down by the Superior Court of Arizona last week.

Judge Douglas Rayes denied the UFCW's request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed last December and accuses the UFCW, its Local 99 affiliate, and several of its agents of defamation, intentional interference with business operations, extortion, and trespass.

"This ruling is a positive first step towards clearing our company's good name," said Mike Proulx, Bashas' president and c.o.o. "Through this lawsuit, we hope to once and for all put an end to the ugly and malicious lies that the UFCW has spread about our company and our employees through its slick, negative campaigning."

Named in the suit are the UFCW International; the UFCW Local 99 (including Hungry for Respect Coalition, a front organization designed to publicly disparage Bashas', according to the grocer); La Campesina radio station (88.3 FM); Michael Nowakowski, City of Phoenix council member and general manager of La Campesina; Alfredo Gutierrez, community activist and talk show host of La Campesina; Rev. Trina Zelle, whose organization allegedly receives most of its funding from unions; William McDonough, e.v.p. and collective bargaining director for UFCW International; and James McLaughlin, president for UFCW Local 99.

The goal of the UFCW's campaign was allegedly to pressure management into signing a contract that would eliminate the right of Bashas' employees to vote, by secret ballot, whether or not they want a union, the Chandler, Ariz.-based grocer said.

"The UFCW has said that it intends to either extort Bashas' into surrendering to its campaign or destroy Bashas' as a viable business," said Mike Manning, the attorney representing Bashas' in this lawsuit. "In pursuit of that scheme, the UFCW and its operatives have repeatedly delivered false and defamatory statements about Bashas' treatment of its members, the health and cleanliness of its grocery stores, and Bashas' regard for, and treatment of, Hispanic customers and employees. This ruling allows Bashas' the right to protect itself from the UFCW's extortion."

The judge also ruled that a coalition of union members and community activists called Hungry for Respect couldn't be sued because it isn't a distinct legal entity. "This is what Bashas' has been saying all along -- that Hungry for Respect is nothing more than an empty store front for the UFCW," said Manning.

According to Bashas', the UFCW's campaign has included promoting a class action; filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board; distributing negative fliers, door hangers, and direct mail pieces; crafting, distributing, and publicizing inflammatory and false reports; accusing the company of selling expired products, and then planting expired products on store shelves; calling in false reports to governmental agencies alleging health code and other operational violations; organizing public demonstrations both inside and outside of stores, with the goal of disrupting and discouraging business; arranging "town-hall-style" meetings to publicly attack Bashas'; sending thousands of pieces of junk mail to Arizona families, spreading lies about Bashas' and Food City; paying prominent and recognizable media outlets to defame Bashas'; handsomely funding vocal mouthpieces to serve as spokespersons against Bashas'; and making personal home visits to encourage shoppers to boycott Bashas' and Food City stores.

UFCW Local 99 officials were unavailable for comment at presstime.

Bashas' operates more than 160 grocery stores in Arizona, California, and New Mexico under the Food City, AJ's Fine Foods, and Bashas' banners.