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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trader Joe's Finally is Coming To Town

There was a time, I would have greeted this news with great enthusiasm. But two separate and frankly unrelated events have caused my enthusiasm to wane for Trader Joe's.

It all started when Trader Joe's determined that the only location in Davis where they would move would be the University Mall on the corner of Sycamore and Russell.

Now it turns out there were a few problems with that location. One was that there was another business already there--Radiological Associates of Sacramento (RAS).

The Davis City Council two years ago approved zoning to allow Centro (the owners of the mall who do not live in Davis) to negotiate with RAS to allow Trader Joe's to move in. RAS refused and Centro sued them. The judge dismissed the suit. Eventually of course Trader Joe's and Centro got its way and RAS is moving to a location on Covell Blvd.

So the big company gets its way, this was precisely the type of company that I had hoped Trader Joe's was not. More on that in a second.

Second problem with that location is that they need to tear down the existing building and put in a new building.

Third problem with that location is parking which is virtually non-existent.

Fourth problem with that location is traffic congestion. Already the one-block area between Sycamore and Anderson on Russell is the most congested area in town. Now you are going to add a major new business that figures to be a huge draw. Do not drive by on Russell during the first few weeks of Trader Joe's.

Fifth problem is one few have discussed--the crows. If you walk around the University Mall during fall and winter you would think you are in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Look at the asphault, it is soaked in bird dropping. When it gets wet, the place is absolutely punget. You want to put a major business there?

And as if all this were not enough, it turns out that Trader Joe's is not the progressive socially responsible business everyone has been... well crowing about.

As we've been reporting for a month now, there was a tragic death of 17-year-old farm worker who was pregnant, young Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. Maria Isabel died from heat exposure after working long hours during the mid-May heat wave in the central valley. As importantly she died because the supervisor failed to get her proper medical attention. By the time she was seen by a doctor she had a core body temperature of 108 and slipped into a coma and then died.

The United Farm Workers report that Charles Shaw wines is the great supplier of the famed "Two Buck Chuck."

Now Trader Joe's is claiming there is no connection.
"Maria Jimenez was employed by an independent contractor, working in an independent vineyard. The vineyard supplies many wineries, but was not supplying grapes for Charles Shaw."
However according to the United Farm Workers this is untrue.
"Trader Joe's prides itself on serving the most progressive, health conscious consumers in our society. They should not evade the issue by pointing to contractor arrangements made by the winery to insulate itself from responsibility for exploitation of the workers. Trader Joe's needs to take moral responsibility and help end that exploitation."
The UFW site continues:
"The facts in this case are clear: Maria Isabel Jimenez died a tragic death while working on a farm--West Coast Farms--co-owned by Fred Franzia. Mr. Franzia is also the owner of Bronco Winery, which produces Charles Shaw wines. It is widely reported that 5-13 million cases of Charles Shaw wine is sold at Trader Joe's stores per year.

We are not denying that Maria was paid through a farm labor contractor. As attorney Robert Perez who is representing Maria's family in a wrongful death lawsuit told the Sacramento Bee, "The reason why corporate farms hire labor contractors is not to have to deal with farmworkers themselves and to shield themselves from liability."
So not only is Trader Joe's involved with the contractor, but they are shirking responsibility. This is very disappointing.

This week the Associated Press reported that Cal-OSHA slapped the farm labor contractor with the largest fine ever.
"The employer of a pregnant teenager who died of heat stroke after pruning grapevines for nine hours in hot weather was hit Wednesday with the highest fine ever issued to a California farming operation.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined Merced Farm Labor $262,700 for violating eight workplace safety rules. The agency said some of the violations were intentional. A criminal investigation also is under way.

State authorities believe 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died on May 14 because her supervisors denied her access to shade and water as she pruned white wine grapevines for more than nine hours in nearly triple-digit heat at a Central Valley vineyard."
Len Welsh chief of Cal-OSHA told the AP:
"There was virtually a complete absence of shade or water, two of the very few tools that employers and employees have to fight the heat... It's just too bad we can't undo the consequences of those violations."
Cal-OSHA faulted the Merced Farm Labor company for not only failed to provide water but deliberately neglected to train workers and managers on how to stay safe while working in punishing temperatures. The company also willfully skirted preparing for a medical emergency. These violations are the most serious and each carry a $70,000 penalty--the maximum under the law. There is also a criminal investigation underway as well as a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of the family.

Yet closer to home, the mood seems jubilant that Trader Joe's is coming to town.

The Davis Enterprise quotes Davis City Councilmember Stephen Souza:
"It's really a great day to finally see that come to fruition. It seems that everyone has finally been made whole, and Davis will see the doors open to Trader Joe's. It is fantastic news for all the folks that love Trader Joe's and all those that will come to love Trader Joe's."
There was a day when I would have been one of them. But the long drawn out battle over location, Trader Joe's refusal to move into the empty shopping center in West Davis or East Davis and decision to push out RAS, and now their refusal to take responsibility for the actions of their vendor, really sour my mouth. I will stick with the co-op when I want something different to eat.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting