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

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"There were 51 percent more major violations at Food City in 2005 than in Bashas'. . . and Food City is focused on our community, right?" Gutierrez said on the show. "We are talking about feathers, birds, mice; dead mice, live mice, and flies" at the Food City stores.

But the numbers are misleading, especially if other grocery store chains are considered — which the union didn't do. As the Bashas' lawsuit against the union points out, many Food City stores dinged by inspectors actually do better, violation-wise, than unionized competitors in the same Hispanic neighborhoods.

Inspection data on grocery stores by the county can be found on its Web site, www.maricopa.gov/envsvc, after clicking, oddly, on "restaurant ratings." The numbers paint a much more complicated picture concerning grocery store violations than the union wants the public to believe.

Illuminating are the most recent cleanliness awards handed out by the county, which reviews stores about every three months. If an inspector finds everything in order, the store and its various departments — such as the meat market, bakery and fast-food eatery — get a gold award. Major violations found usually merit a silver award or no award.

Using the award system, New Times found that Food City stores, indeed, get fewer gold ratings and more major violations than those carrying the Bashas' name.

But Safeway stores, as a whole, rated about the same as Food City markets. Using Gutierrez's logic, it could be argued that if Bashas' disrespects Hispanics, Safeway — and by extension the UFCW, which represents Safeway workers — are dissing everyone they serve.

Combine the Food City and Bashas' stores and you get percentages similar to the whole Fry's chain. In other words, overall, Fry's has about the same number of violations per store as Bashas'.

Certain poorly performing Fry's stores bring down the average — and many of those are in Hispanic neighborhoods. The Valley's three Ranch Market stores, often held up by critics of Food City as a cleaner alternative for Hispanic shoppers, fare no better on violations than some of the worst Food City violators.

It's not that Gutierrez is incorrect about certain problems at Food City stores. He just conveniently fails to mention the same conditions that crop up at unionized chains.

Another piece of evidence that Bashas' disrespects Hispanics, according to Gutierrez and union advocates, is that the chain advertises on 550 AM (KFYI) during J.D. Hayworth's show.

But spokeswomen from Safeway and Kroger, which owns Fry's, confirmed that their chains advertise plenty on two AM radio stations known for their conservative commentary, KTAR and KFYI. Sure, Hayworth talks tough about illegal immigrants, but not more so than most of the radio personalities on either station.

Despite the weak link between advertising and bigotry, Gutierrez wrote in an e-mail to Univision in late October that the Spanish-language TV network should stop dealing with Food City "or any other company that advocates our deportation and the stripping of our children's constitutional rights."

He apparently was referring to the harsh rhetoric espoused by Hayworth or other right-wing commentators concerning a proposal to take citizenship away from the children of illegal immigrants. But no Bashas' or Food City official has ever been quoted publicly saying anything like that.

In fact, Gutierrez tells New Times he has no idea whether other grocery chains advertise on J.D. Hayworth's show, or on other shows with equally conservative opinions. Nor does he care.

"It's very possible that I bought an auto part from a store that advertises there," Gutierrez says. "I'm an advocate. I don't pretend to be an objective voice."

But Gutierrez and other UFCW advocates want the public to think they're objective, to a certain extent. They want people to believe it's credible that Bashas' is somehow worse than other grocery chains, that the assertion is based on reasonably fair research, and that a union would make things better.

In Gutierrez's case, however, he's more than just biased — he's getting paid big bucks by the UFCW, a fact he admits readily to New Times. How much is he getting?

"I don't want to answer that because I'm getting sued," he says, referring to his status as a defendant, along with Trina Zelle and Hector Yturralde, in Bashas' defamation claim against the union.

But even though Gutierrez won't fess up, it's right there in the suit that the UFCW pays his consulting firm, Tequida and Gutierrez, a whopping $20,000 a month.

Questioned about the ethics of such a relationship with the union, Gutierrez says he sees no problem with getting paid by the UFCW and then blasting its target, Bashas', on his radio program.

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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.