Bashas' Wins 3, Loses 3 in Union Case

CHANDLER, Ariz. -Bashas' here went three for six in a judge's ruling in a case brought by UFCW Local 99 that claimed the chain violated the rights of union employees at stores in had purchased from other operators. But even as the grocer said it would abide by the judge's ruling, its spokesperson told Progressive Grocer the fact that the union even had a case was a testament to Bashas' commitment to putting employees first.

The judge ruled that that the company violated state law by failing to notify UFCW Local 99 of changes that affected employees who are represented by the union at nine Bashas' stores.

The judge ordered the company to remove a U-scan unit it had installed in one store without consulting the union, and to restore the status quo that existed prior to the installation and give the union an opportunity to bargain about the matter should Bashas' decide to reinstall the unit in the future.

The judge also ordered Bashas' Inc. to pay back wages to union employees transferred from other stores as a result of those stores' closings.

Kristy Nied, Bashas' director of communications, said in an interview that the chain had had a choice of not hiring the union employees when it had purchased the stores where they working in 2001.

"When we acquired those stores, we had to make a decision," she explained. "Were we going to hire more than 50 percent of the people who worked in those ABCO stores, or were we going to just not hire them so we didn't have to deal with the union? A lot of companies wouldn't have hired them to avoid having something like this happen. But we're a people business. Those people have jobs and we have a responsibility to them as an employer."

The other seven stores involved in the case, also union shops, came in an acquisition from Arizona Supermarkets in 1993. The stores currently run under the banners AJ's Fine Foods, Bashas', and Food City.

Nied said the company considered the judge's ruling fair, and it would abide by the judge's recommendations. "We do believe that we won on the bigger issues," she added.

The three charges that were dismissed had sought to eliminate new healthcare benefits that carried higher premiums, re-open stores that were closed, and forbid Bashas' from working directly with its employees at the two former ABCO stores.

While Nied said Bashas' plans to work with the unions in the future, union representatives had shown little interest in them until Bashas' changed its healthcare plans last year.

"When we acquired those 9 stores in 1993 and in 2001, we started talking to the unions, but those discussions reached kind of an impasse," said Nied. "The unions stopped collecting dues form those workers' paychecks, and weren't representing them. So we ended up treating those individuals the way we treat the rest of our members who work for us, offering them excellent benefits.

"Last summer we changed our health care plan to one with a pair of options," added Nied. "One was more of a basic plan where you would not have to pay a premium; or if you wanted an upgraded plan, you would pay a minimal premium. So after 13 years of silence, we started hearing from the unions, and they began filing charges against us."
-- Joseph Tarnowski
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