On most weekday mornings, there's now a crowd of men clad in orange safety vests at the entrance to Ladera Oaks Swim, Fitness & Tennis Club on Alpine Road. They're unemployed union electricians, and they're picketing the major renovation going on there because the electricians are getting wages that are lower than the going rate.
Fremont subcontractor Mission Electric is paying its electricians a wage 20 percent lower than what they'd pay if union electricians were doing the work, spokesman Dominic Nolan of Local 617 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers told The Almanac.
Mission Electric did not return a call requesting comment.
The picketers carry signs, shout slogans occasionally when passing cars honk their horns, and march in a circle, often around another picketer dressed in a gray and black rat costume.
If the subcontractor starts paying union rates, the protests will stop, Mr. Nolan said. The picketing tends to start at 7 a.m. and end shortly after noon.
What about the rat? Is it a demeaning reference to non-union electricians who cross picket lines? It is not, Mr. Nolan said, adding, "It more draws attention to the protest than anything else."
As people enter and leave the club, they're offering "a lot of support," he said. "A lot of people (passing by) are honking their horns," he added.
A call to the club for a comment was not returned.
Local 617 celebrated its 100th year in 2008, Mr. Nolan said. The union is active in the community, including donating some 65 scoreboards to schools in San Mateo County.
Scoreboards at Woodside High School and Canada College, and probably the one at Menlo-Atherton High School, are courtesy of Local 617, he said.
The union also runs a 60-year-old apprentice training program in San Carlos, where students recently built a trailer equipped with solar panels as a mobile demonstration of their craft, Mr. Nolan said.