As the contingent and a couple of dogs climbed a half-mile grade, the mailboxes got larger and all seemed built in the shape of birdhouses. The air became damp and heavy with the scent of bay laurel and of nearby stables — all the oaks here were very much alive.
“You have my permission to go and string that guy up, I hate him!” called down a resident from the deck of his A-frame. Another neighbor, across the street, who said he was a retired teacher and union member, also voiced support for the demonstrators.
Eventually the five ministers and one rabbi reached a big gate dividing the upper class from the upper-middle class. They and the 10,000 letters they brought were met by Guy Worth, a distressed-looking man who said he was Burd’s personal representative. Worth was conservatively tailored, soft-spoken, and nodded during the appropriate moments of give-and-take with the delegation. Later it emerged that he was merely a well-dressed security guard from Safeway, but in that moment of exchange the ministers and the rabbi trusted him and began the kabuki of public petition, a ritualized dance in which the clergy members said they knew Burd was a man of conscience and God who liked puppies, while the personal representative personally promised to deliver their three sacks of letters to the lord of Alamo Ridge. After about 15 minutes the clergy got Worth to hold hands with them and pray, and then the gates opened and the personal representative walked back up the hill to Burd’s house with its garden, swimming pool — and fireplaces.
Days later, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer told a wildly cheering strike-support rally in Inglewood that he will charge the three supermarket chains with antitrust violations, citing a mutual-aid pact created to beat the union. And next week, Safeway Inc.’s latest earnings report is expected to reflect crippling losses — while a long-predicted federal probe into the alleged hiring of locked-out Ralphs workers under false Social Security numbers has been formally announced. Although these developments bode well for the UFCW, their forcing of a settlement of the strike and/or Steve Burd’s resignation may take months. In the meantime, the union will have to stop ignoring its members’ energy and ingenuity, and instead use them to create a theater of confrontation and appeal that will win over the public — the strike’s ultimate mediators.