I just got back from my local grocer. The store is now operated by a persona largesse in Eddie Basha, Jr. who is the son and nephew of the original founders. The original brothers of Basha’s Supermarkets came to the grocery business because a farmer and developer gave his employees coupons in lieu of actual cash for wages. This developer made a deal with the Basha’s brothers to help establish a general store and post office on his own land wherein those coupon-rich / cash-poor employees could purchase goods in a locally operated store. This important relationship is the basis for business that is still in operation today under the same banner.
The key to understanding the present politics of Eddie Basha, Jr. and his popular chain of groceries is in understanding how the relationship to the community was developed in the first place. Basha’s is currently in a decline, as far as local businesses go. They are facing tough economic times brought on by the waining market of consumers who are losing their homes and jobs and cash in the wake of the current economic shitstorm. In the metropolitan community that Basha’s serves, the rate of foreclosure was recently noted as being 5th highest in the nation. Unemployment is now hovering at 9.2%. That is pretty much in line with the national average, but underemployment has surged over 15%. Arizona is ranked among the top ten of states whose employees have a job, but not one that works for them. These types of employees are likely unable to work enough hours for enough pay at the level education or experience they have. These are usually the folks lining up to take menial wage jobs because they desperately need them and they are competing with a lot of other folks whose training looks a lot like their own for these part-time gigs. For Basha’s, this means people can’t afford to shop for groceries anymore.
Ironically, the Basha’s company was founded in 1932, another era in which workers were desperate for whatever jobs they could get to secure the needs of themselves and their families. And I think this might likely be another key in understanding what I saw at Basha’s today. The employees today were wearing anti-Union buttons. Eddie Basha, Jr. has been taking out space in local papers, airing radio advertisements, and sending mass mailings to the good customers of his community in an effort to educate us about the evils of Union organizing. I can see his point. Unions afterall, have a notorious and often ugly history of mismanagement at best and outright bamboozling at worst. Even more concerning to Eddie Basha, Jr., the grocery unions have squeezed out many local grocers and supermarkets. The unionized grocery is now likely to be a nationwide chain that supports payment of union dues in the benefits package and salary agreements of the employees who work for them. These businesses are not from here, but they do big business here and take their profits out of the local market. Eddie Basha, Jr. has made it his policy to keep his money local. He makes a big deal about doing local community service projects that benefit local schools and charities. In a close race, Eddie, Jr. ran for the governor’s job in 1994 against that scoundrel Fife Symington of the Savings and Loans debacle. In the campaign, Basha touted his extensive good deeds and community service with Basha’s Supermarkets as part of his political appeal. By his own claim, he does offer something unique to the local community that those bad ole union groceries do not. Basha’s employs local workers and facilitate a “state-of-the-art” distribution center to provide goods and services at several price points in competitive storefronts throughout the state.
To synthesis this whole thing, Basha’s began as part of a scam to avoid paying local workers actual cash wages for the services and goods they offered. The supermarket chain has grown and become a successful chain because they nurtured their FoodCity stores in low-income neighborhoods, their Dine (pronounced deen ay) stores on Native American Reservations, and their middle-class Basha’s stores sprinkled about with the high-end, upper-class A.J.’s Markets carrying overpriced goodies and fresh made treats. They have gone from being a small general store to a supermarket chain by supporting this state’s “right to work” emplyee policies (which roughly translate into a “right to terminate” policy for employers) and avoiding pesky things like benefits packages and standardized pay. They do not adhere to any newfangled notions of “equal pay for equal work” and nor are they bogged down by avoiding discriminitory employment practices.
I’ve been a pretty squeamish Basha’s customer since moving to this town. While the chain is predominant in this community, in the outermost reaches of the state where I am from, the chain has not overwhelmed the market. The Basha’s family stores are the two closest grocers to my home and are at the middle and upper price points making them all too convenient to frequent. More often than not, I choose to venture further down the road. While Eddie Basha, Jr. aligns himself politically with a democratic party affiliation, he often engages in politicking that belies his dogma. He has even been outed in large sum donations toward the pinkpantied Joe Arpaio in that whackjob’s efforts to racially profile and harass hispanic members of the local population.
So I did not feel very good today when I ran into the store for an avocado and few bananas to round off our dinner faire and in going through the expresslane came face to bust to see the polyester Basha’s employee vests emblazoned with unionbusting buttons. I can’t imagine that the staff are thrilled to make crap money with unfair business practices. The physical manifestation of those employee’s sentiments were immediately apparent upon the first swoosh of airconditioned rotting scent wafting over me at door when I entered. The staff is not well-kept these days and that is worse than usual, so I’d suggest that morale in the breakroom is at an all-time low. Most patrons at the store probably do not have a clue about why their local market is no longer as a fresh as it once was. More likely though, the regular customers who can continue to shop there are overwhelmed by larger problems, more closer to their own pocketbooks. The amount of generic and off-label brands populating baskets at the checkout counter, coupled with frazzled and weary personages reading the headlines on the weekly gossiprags bely ignorant consumers who don’t even understand what all the union fuss is about.
Instead of focusing positive business revenues towards better employment and fair practices, the Basha’s chain chooses to play the blame-game. It is a sad state of affairs. All these years I was weighed down by my desire to support local business competing with my equivalent wish to see people treated with dignity in their workplaces. I think the Basha’s name would be in a lot less economic trouble right now had they regarded the local consumer and the local employee as being worthy of their very best. Union-bating had it’s heyday in state politics before I was born. Basha’s has happily gobbled up the profit from their beneficial support of prior union-busting efforts and they didn’t give back to their own in any real or fundamental way. Our local schools are ranked dead last in successfully educating local students. Local charities receive a greater portion of their funding from national sources. Worse still, Basha’s business have enjoyed tax incentives for the pittances they’ve given back to the community.
We need a local grocer who cares about local people. I suggest to Eddie Basha, Jr.; change your ways or change your résumé.