In its war for new members, a labor union is using dirty tricks to turn Hispanics against Bashas'

Page 5 of 8

Karen Sell, director of the federally funded Women, Infants and Children program, says random inspections of about 120 Arizona stores in 2006 and 2007 uncovered 11 cans of expired formula on the shelves of nine different establishments. But unlike Hungry For Respect, Sell's inspectors checked more than just one grocery chain. She wouldn't reveal where the formula was found, but she says the nine stores belonged to at least two separate grocery companies.

About the same time as the Bashas' formula buys, the California Healthy Communities Network held a press conference in San Francisco to announce it had found cartloads of expired products at Farmer Joe's stores. Newspapers and television news stations interviewed a private investigator named Dan Rush who had helped lead the sting on Farmer Joe's. It turns out that Rush is a former political director for the UFCW and the Network is a front group for the union.

Similarly, the people advocating on behalf of the UFCW Local 99 have a far cozier relationship with the union than has been reported in the daily press.

When Giglio was asked to name the unaffiliated "community members," as the union has called them, who helped with the baby-formula project, Giglio suggested that New Times meet with the Reverend Trina Zelle of Interfaith Worker Justice and Hector Yturralde and Alfredo Gutierrez of Somos America.

New Times determined that there was nothing unbiased about these three on the topic of Bashas' and the union. Each either benefits personally from union funding or represents an organization that does.

Trina Zelle, a Presbyterian minister in her late 40s, says she doesn't think it was unfair for her and other Hungry For Respect members to go into Bashas' stores exclusively to buy formula for the UFCW's campaign. She argues that the project was about keeping babies safe, not about helping the UFCW attack Bashas'.

The reason the group ignored union-represented chains like Fry's or Safeway in its effort to keep infants from harm, she contended, is that "you can only allocate your resources so much."

Pressed further on the issue, Zelle says "they" were receiving complaints about only Bashas' baby formula, so there was no need to check other stores. She wouldn't disclose who "they" were.

Zelle's group, Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organization, receives lots of money from unions, including the UFCW. Government reports show that it got at least $338,000 in union contributions in the past three years. By Zelle's own admission, union money makes up about 30 percent of her paycheck.

She denies that the union dollars influenced her decision to investigate the single grocery chain, Bashas', targeted by the union. But when it came to questions about the UFCW's involvement in the project, Zelle's answers descended into a series of memory lapses. Zelle says she can't recall when she first heard of the idea to buy baby formula, when or who invited her to do it, who instructed her in how to make the buys, or where the preparatory meeting took place.

Asked repeatedly who led the project, Zelle says, "I'm trying to figure out exactly what you're asking. I know I'm being frustrating."

Zelle says she spent the entire day of the formula purchases with a teammate. But she says she can't remember his name, whether he was connected to the union or where the man got the money to pay for the formula.

Zelle was only slightly more specific during the July 11 press conference about the expired formula, in which she acted as one of the project's front people. The man she worked with was a "community member" and she had "no idea" whether he was reimbursed for the buys, she told the news media at the time.

The minister repeatedly tells New Times that she has all the answers about the people she worked with on the project written down in a notebook at home. New Times asks to see the book.

"I'm not interested in proving to you I have notes," Zelle responds.

Giglio eventually tells New Times that Zelle's partner was indeed a union worker, and that the UFCW paid for all of the formula.

Like Zell's Interfaith Worker Justice, Hector Yturralde's Somos America also receives union funding, Giglio says, though she refused to divulge how much. Somos America is, in fact, a coalition of groups that includes the UFCW, and the union allows Somos to use its facilities and other resources.

Yturralde's activist partner in Somos, former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez — who has been at the forefront of union allegations that Bashas' is anti-Hispanic — has an even closer financial relationship with the UFCW. His consulting firm contracts with the union.

One of the union's key claims is that the chain's Food City stores have far more health violations than its Bashas' markets. After the union presented a report on the subject, titled "Is There a Double Standard?," to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in November, Gutierrez aired the findings two weeks later on his Spanish-language radio show on Radio Campesina 88.3 FM.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.