For decades, an enclosed turntable displaying a new Cadillac model became an iconic sight at Renick Cadillac in Fullerton. With construction on a new Subaru showroom underway, the beloved turntable won’t be coming back to the corner of Euclid Street and Orangethorpe Avenue. But a new display of a different sort now claims the intersection. For weeks, a sidewalk sign war between Carpenters Local 803 and Renick Cadillac pits picketers with “Racism @ Renick Cadillac?!” banners against the car dealership’s electronic sign declaring “Renick Racists? Union lies and deception.”
The dispute started earlier this year when Renick Cadillac chose Sauers Lopez Construction, Subaru’s recommended non-union contractor who placed a much cheaper bid than the union. “The union’s bid was basically 50 percent more than the lowest bid for the same job,” says James Renick, Vice President and co-owner of the dealership since 2000. “Sauers Lopez, being the general contractor, then put on a bid for various things that needed to be done.”
The $4.5 million renovation opened up job opportunities for cement, electrical, mill, plumbing and flooring work. The auto dealership’s never hired union work before, but also hasn’t had construction project of this scale either. “I bet [the bid] was cheaper! says Local 803 President Pete Rodriguez. “When you use contractors that don’t pay workers comp insurance, [and] pay a little bit above minimum wage, you’re going to save some money at the end of the day. Our membership gets an hourly livable rate that’s competitive.” When Local 803 didn’t receive a solicitation on subcontracting work from Sauers Lopez and negotiations afterward broke down, the union decided to take the fight to Renick Cadillac.
“Get the fuck out of my office!” Joe Patterson, Renick Cadillac’s General Sales Manager told union members in June. “The carpenters union is a joke!” A flyer handed out by banner picketers claim that Patterson’s uncouth orders came without provocation. Renick, who describes himself as a trickle-down economics guy says “union thugs” tried to intimidate and harass his employee until left with no other choice. “What they’re doing is basically is extortion,” he adds. The banner signs came out after the office encounter. “As soon as [Patterson] told us to F-off, you can imagine your creative juices start to flow,” says Rodriguez. They researched customer reviews on Yelp, found accusations of racism and fashioned the banner messages accordingly.
Renick defends his company against the claim. “The Renick family has never been racist in any way, shape or form,” he says. “We’ve got two managers that are black. In fact, our third-in-command is black.” The electronic sign above the banner picketers reads that 54 percent of Renick Cadillac employees are non-white. Renick himself says he’ll sell a car to anyone, so long as they qualify. He refutes an Asian couple’s Yelp review from two years ago that the union highlights on its handouts. “That was a Korean husband and his wife that came in here and they didn’t have any credit,” Renick says. “They couldn’t buy a car. They got mad, left, went home and Yelped us that we’re racist.”
The tactic isn’t a new one. The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters hit Buena Park’s Premier Chevrolet in May with a banner reading, “Premier Auto Group says ‘F**k you wetbacks!” after being passed over on a construction contract. The union maintained that management hurled the slur at banner picketers. The much calmer sign wars in Fullerton continue, but Renick wonders how much longer it can last. Construction is expected to wrap up by late November with down payments on all remaining work expected to be paid much sooner. “There’s only three weeks of building here,” says Renick. But the auto dealership’s timeline won’t effect the union’s tactics anytime soon.
“Renick can afford a union carpenter,” Rodriguez says. “We’ve got a 50,000 membership that we have to give every opportunity possible to provide for their families.”