City Beat

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City Beat: Union points a ‘Grim’ finger at Sacramento’s Co-op

04/21/2014 12:00 AM

04/21/2014 10:34 AM

The Grim Reaper has a message for you: The people who peddle vegan hot dogs and flaxseed in the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op are destroying our city.

Take a drive past the shop at Alhambra Boulevard and S Street at the edge of midtown and you can’t miss the big guy issuing that warning. He’s 15 feet tall. And most mornings, the Angel of Death is out there pointing a boney finger into traffic above an enormous sign that says the co-op “Hurts Workers, Hurts Families, Hurts Community.”

The menacing character is a big prop in an unusual clash. It isn’t a protest over the treatment of livestock. And it isn’t a campaign objecting to the co-op’s sale of goods from Israel, a crusade some members waged in 2011.

This is about unionized carpenters going after a unionized co-op with a progressive-leaning membership largely sympathetic to organized labor. The general contractor building a multimillion-dollar store for the co-op likely won’t use union carpenters because the union’s bid was 30 percent higher than other bids, according to the store.

The carpenters union – Local 46 – insists it doesn’t care if the carpenter jobs are union. It just wants the co-op to demand that the workers get paid what is calls “area standard wages.”

But using death personified to make that point?

“If you ask me, it’s a pretty scary world we’re on a pathway towards,” said Scott Littlehale, a union spokesman. “We’re headed towards sicker communities if we hollow out the middle class, and that’s what has been happening to carpenters.”

OK, but the Grim Reaper?

“We’re not communication experts,” he said. “We just try to select the right tools to communicate.”

The message isn’t sinking in with the co-op.

“It’s like showing up for a job interview drunk and you spit at the interviewer,” said Paul Cultrera, the store general manager.

The carpenters sought a receptive audience in the co-op’s membership, but Cultrera said he’s gotten fewer than five calls or emails since the Reaper appeared a few weeks back. Most shoppers walk right past the display. A few parents have complained that the scary figure freaked out their kids.

Cultrera sits in a crammed second-floor office across from the co-op on Alhambra Boulevard. He has a lovely view of the Reaper.

After weeks of that view, Cultrera seems tired. He said the co-op has asked that the workers building the new store be well paid. The store’s 115 clerks are in the Teamsters union. Many of the contractors on the new co-op job – including plumbers and technicians installing the HVAC system – will be unionized.

“Someday it will go away, and they’ll find some other place to pick on,” Cultrera said.

Until that day comes, the Grim Reaper will continue his attempts to ward you away from the co-op, flaxseed and all.

About This Blog

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Sacramento Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at or 916-321-1085. Twitter: @Ryan_Lillis.

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