Union, Bashas' Spar Over Health Benefits

CHANDLER, Ariz. Tangles between Bashas' and organized labor continued last week after the National Labor Relations Board requested the retailer respond to charges it changed its benefit structure last year without negotiating with a union. Bashas' maintains it has no union employees with which to bargain, and that the majority of its employees want it that way. The dispute relates to the status of

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Tangles between Bashas' and organized labor continued last week after the National Labor Relations Board requested the retailer respond to charges it changed its benefit structure last year without negotiating with a union.

Bashas' maintains it has no union employees with which to bargain, and that the majority of its employees want it that way.

The dispute relates to the status of certain employees who worked for union-affiliated grocery stores purchased by Bashas' in 1993 and 2001. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99, Phoenix, maintains that such employees remain members of the union, and that Local 99 is their exclusive bargaining representative.

When Bashas' last year made changes to its health care benefit plan, those changes should have been made through bargaining with the union, Local 99's complaint charged. The union is asking that the company maintain its previous benefit plan and refund any money paid toward the higher health premiums by union-affiliated employees.

The new benefit plan requires some employees to contribute to their health benefit costs, a Bashas' spokesman said.

In a statement, Bashas' called the complaint “another attempt by the union to force us to deal with them against the wishes of our employees.”

Bashas' and the UFCW have tangled frequently over the years. Most recently, the union charged that Bashas' new health plan violated a 2004 understanding that Bashas' would maintain the same benefits as unionized competitors Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., and Fry's, a division of Cincinnati-based Kroger. The NLRB dismissed that complaint, a Bashas' spokesman said.

The union picketed some Bashas'-owned stores to protest the benefits changes in June, leading to arrests, published reports said. The union has set up a website, www.bashasworkers.com [3], to keep employees informed of developments.

Local 99 had contracts with the employers of workers at nine stores currently belonging to Bashas' and estimates that between 500 and 600 of those workers remain. Bashas' acquired seven stores from Arizona Supermarkets Inc. in 1993, a few of which became the base for Bashas' AJ's Fine Foods format. The contract with the former ASI employees expired in 1994.

Bashas' acquired two additional union stores in 2001 from ABCO Food Group. The contract with those employees expired in 2000.