Eddie Basha Jr., an Arizona legend who used profits from his successful grocery chain to fund countless charity causes, spent the last years of his life fighting allegations of racism, mistreating employees, and even hurting babies by a labor union bent on domination.
Though Basha, the grandson of Arizona-pioneering Lebanese immigrants, had supported many liberal causes and once ran for governor as a Democrat, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 union gave the grocer a decade of grief for his anti-union stance.
The fight cost the chain millions of dollars and reportedly was a major reason the company had to lay off hundreds of employees and file for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009.
In one of the dirtiest tricks, UFCW lackeys "found" expired baby food in Bashas' stores; a supposedly independent consumer group then held a press conference and distributed literature accusing the chain of potentially harmful callousness against babies. Bashas' attorney Mike Manning claimed some of the expired baby formula was planted -- whether that's true or not, the group, Hungry for Respect, didn't check out the products at any other chain.
Our January 2008 feature article on the union battle, linked above, also detailed how the UFCW handed out free pizzas in Hispanic communities and recruited a young, dynamic speaker -- who also happened to be an undocumented immigrant -- to whip up sentiment for a boycott of
Bashas' and Food City stores. New Times attended one of several house parties hosted by the union in a west Phoenix neighborhood, watching as the union led discussions about how Bashas' supports bigotry against Hispanics.
The union stood to gain a fortune if it won the war to represent to the chain's employees. From the article:
Local 99 dues now average between $27.65 and $47.88 a month, depending on a worker's position. Even with the lower dues, if Bashas' 14,000 employees unionized, the UFCW could collect $4.6 million a year. Local 99 took in about $7.5 million in dues last year, so roping in Bashas' would be a major coup.
Basha couldn't have fought off the union without the support of many employees who believed they were better off without the UFCW. In an unusual turnabout, a group of employees even picketed the UFCW's Central Phoenix office.
Bashas' sued the UFCW for defamation and extortion. In 2009, the two parties declared a truce, agreeing to end negative publicity campaigns against each other and settle lawsuits and allegations of labor violations. The company emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2010.
The long struggle against the UFCW and its dirty tactics infuriated Basha, who wondered aloud to the Tucson Citizen in 2007, "What the hell has the union given to this community?"
Echoes of a famous speech by Winston Churchill rang in Basha's quotes to the Tucson paper: "I'm going to fight them in the streets; I'm going to fight them in the sewers; I'm going to fight them wherever I have to fight them . . . They have tenacity, and they think we're not going to have any fortitude. They picked the wrong Marine."
The Basha family, in a statement last night, said that the last few years were among the most challenging of Eddie Basha Jr.'s life.
Basha was a man of solid ethics who spent much of his life and an estimated $100 million giving back to the community.
The UFCW ensured that his golden years would be a time of reputation-tarnishing, stress and financial challenges.