Members of a group pushing to unionize Bashas’ 14,000 workers displayed hundreds of expired infant formula containers they say were found at the chain’s stores throughout Arizona.
Hungry For Respect, a group formed by the United Food Workers Coalition union, said the products displayed on several tables during a Wednesday morning news briefing were purchased primarily from Bashas’ and Food City stores. About 10 percent of the containers came from AJ’s Fine Foods, they said. All are owned by Bashas’.
Hungry For Respect, which insists the study was done in the public’s interest and not as a veiled attack on the company, said they purchased the products around May and June after receiving complaints from Bashas’ employees on the matter.
The group’s representatives said workers are unable to devote adequate time to ensure that the expired products are removed from shelves and replenished.
“As they brought that to people’s attention it’s just fallen on deaf ears,” said Phil Reller, a Hungry For Respect member who said he shopped at at least eight Basha-owned stores.
“We found expired products in three of those stores,” he said. “One was Food City and two were Bashas’.”
Bashas’ executives, who met with Tribune reporters Wednesday, repeated assertions that the union’s claims were part of a smear campaign to bully the company into signing a union contract without allowing for a vote.
Bashas’ officials said the UFCW doesn’t want to have a vote because the union knows it would lose.
“Their playbook goes on and on,” said Mike Proulx, president and chief operating officer.
On Monday, Basha family patriarch Eddie Basha Jr. and several of his executives angrily denied the union’s claims calling them “vicious lies and despicable slander” during their own news conference.
Officials said they would take the union head-on and that they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing and advertising to combat the UFCW’s message.
Bashas’ maintains it has policies and procedures in place that ensure that the products they sell are removed from the shelf before their expiration date.
Officials also pointed out that they hadn’t been cited for having expired formula during random state inspections for years.
Members of Hungry For Respect denied that they were specifically targeting Bashas’ to pressure the company into allowing union organization and said they would have conducted similar inspections at other grocery chain stores had they received worker complaints.
“This is not a ploy,” said Trina Zelle, a member of Hungry For Respect. “This is about expired infant formula being sold.”
Company representatives said they got access to the receipts and infant formula for the first time on Wednesday. They said Hungry for Respect had repeatedly denied them access in the past, however the group’s officials said that’s not true.
Bashas’ officials said it would be weeks before they could track the products and determine their origin and dates of purchase.
Giglio said the next step for Hungry For Respect will be to meet with state legislators on the matter during hearings July 19.