On a glorious autumn day outside the grocery store where she has made friends, greeted customers and collected a paycheck for the past 22 years, Sheri Taylor staked out a patch of parking lot and gamely waved her picket sign.
"Is this your new uniform?" a man with a familiar face asked from behind the wheel of his shiny white Mercedes.
"This is it! For now," said Taylor, 42, standing in sandals, jeans and a striped shirt, her hair tied back with a bandanna, the sounds of Linkin Park buzzing through her ear buds.
As she marched back and forth outside the Folsom Boulevard strip mall anchored by a sunny red Raley's sign, Taylor confessed her hope that she would be wearing her standard white work shirt and black apron again soon.
"But we just don't know," she said. "I'm recently divorced, and I've got three kids. But I'm willing to give up this loss in pay for the bigger picture."
The daughter of a proud member of Engineering Local 30, Taylor had never been on a picket line until this week.
Arriving around 11 a.m. on Day Two of the strike against the West Sacramento-based grocery chain, she unfolded a pink stadium chair and stuffed fliers headlined "Please don't shop at Raley's!" in her waistband.
A spa, a cigar shop and an empty storefront separated her from about two dozen other striking workers stationed at the store's main entrance. She watched as customers weaved through the gantlet, many of them avoiding eye contact with pickets who tried to engage them. She saw colleagues who had chosen to cross the picket line somberly gather carts and walk back inside.
Taylor, wearing a smile and silver hoop earrings, stood her ground on the line, even while expressing loyalty to the company.
"The union has been very good to me these past 22 years," she said. "So has Raley's."
Long before she worked her way up to a checker position and a part-time wage of $21 an hour, Taylor collected carts in the searing heat and pouring rain, even while she was hugely pregnant, she recalled. Raley's, she said, has always been "family friendly" and flexible when she needed to take off time for "kid things." She has friends at all levels of the company.
But where would Raley's workers be, she mused, if the union had not fought for decent wages and benefits? Health care and pension are the main issues in the dispute between the union and the company. Taylor also is concerned she could lose the extra pay she gets for coming in on Sundays.
She calmly explained her position to customer after customer Monday, including Ken Johnston, 54, who rolled up in his motorized wheelchair.
"I know a lot of you personally. I come here a couple of times a day," said the bearded Johnston, a camouflage cap perched on his head. "I understand why you're fighting the bigwigs, but you should have waited until after the holidays. This is bad timing."
A motorcycle roared up and the rider gave Taylor a thumbs up; others honked their approval. Some shouted "F-bombs" at the strikers. One gave Taylor the middle-fingered salute.
Inside the store, aisles were eerily quiet, although a manager said it was a typical Monday afternoon. Pizza samples went begging. There were no cleanups on Aisle 7. A Raley's employee welcomed all comers with a "Thanks for stopping in!"
As the afternoon wore on, strikers in front of the store became more animated, chanting loudly about "respect" and "dignity." Tensions briefly flared as some pickets confronted shoppers emerging from the store.
One striking worker dropped to his knees before a customer, forcefully pleading "We just want respect and dignity!"
The shopper, an older woman in a sun visor, poked her finger in his face: "Everybody is losing things in this economy! Everyone!" she said. "Deal with it!"
From her perch, Taylor looked away. It was time to pick up her two younger children from school, shuttle them to their father's house, maybe grab a bite to eat. She planned to rejoin the picket line when customers would be arriving to buy deli items and beer for their Monday night dinners.
"I'll be back," she said, climbing into her silver SUV and pulling away.