Worthless career advice
from the high desert workers paradise


Expanded from the 10-21-2001 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Most of the time, letters to my website don't make this column, but today is different, Two recent ones have application from Australia to Las Vegas to beautiful downtown Sparks.

"I'm a union member and delegate in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and my wife is a union member for the shop distributors union," a gentleman whose first name is Graeme wrote last week.

"We were just over in the states on holidays and we liked Nevada. Can you e-mail me some web links to unions in Nevada so I can get an idea on what it's like to work in the states and in Nevada? The info I'm looking for is wages, working conditions and the like. As we liked Nevada that much, we would like to move over there," Graeme stated.

The first response is the easiest: it all depends.

As I've stated so many times for so many years, if you're a "DINK" (the census-speak acronym for "Double Income, No Kids"), you can do pretty well here. Your income must be middle-middle class and above. In practical terms, today that means around $50,000 per year and up.

Nevadans have quoted an old cliche for decades: Reno is to San Francisco as Las Vegas is to Los Angeles. For some inexplicable reason, compared to Gomorrah South, the Reno area has always reflected San Francisco's highest-in-the-nation cost of living. In recent decades, the overall desirability of northwestern Nevada has been the deciding factor.

The other half of the proportion has eroded of late. Because of its decades of boom and recent wartime bust, the economic engine of the state has sputtered. Las Vegas currently has an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, far higher than the 3.6 percent in the Sparks-Reno area. However, right next door, our northern neighbors in Carson City and Douglas County match the Las Vegas rate.( None of these numbers reflect the mass layoffs in southern Nevada after the wartime depression set in.)

More than two-thirds of Nevadans (well over a million) live in Clark County in the southern tip of the state. Nevada is still basically a small town with a big geography. So much of our population is concentrated in two main inter-urban areas that we have ranked for years as the most urban state in the nation.

All Nevada civic and political leaders genuflect at the altar of economic diversification. The north has taken a far different and more productive approach than the south. Southern Nevada's idea of diversity was to encourage an always-large and growing military presence. This was another reflection of southern California, which enjoyed a sharp rise in military largesse during World War II. That expansion never stopped until the end of the Cold War stopped it.

By the 1991 Gulf War recession, Las Vegas was already well into an unprecedented mega-casino construction expansion. The disappearance of large numbers of military-related jobs went all but unnoticed.

Some Cassandras warned of the dangers of this particular Trojan Horse — that becoming a one-horse economy is fraught with peril should the steed ever stumble. Like the mythological seer's prophecies, the doomsayers were ignored until the barbarians had entered the gates.

Las Vegas became largely a Pegasus economy — the horse grew wings. The southern Nevada tourism industry relied mainly on air travel which understandably dwindled after the serpent of terrorism sang its September song. Las Vegas casinos responded with mass firings of workers, not because they couldn't afford to ride out the storm, but because they saw an opportunity to break the back of the city's unions — especially the 55,000-member Culinary Local 226 which has lost a quarter of its membership.

The New York Times joined the funereal chorus last Friday with a major story about LV relief agencies running out of money to help fired workers facing eviction. Many non-union properties have fired few employees in comparison to the union shops. Casino owners, of course, blame the union contracts they gladly signed last year. But they have refused to rehire most of their workers despite the city returning to sold-out levels this month.

Local 226 staff director D. Taylor said the union will not stand for any more shenanigans like forcing one worker to do the work of four.

By comparison, northwestern Nevada is so far behind Las Vegas that today we're ahead of them. Most of our visitors still drive. Because of decades of sincere economic diversification efforts, our gambling industry now employs only 17 percent of Sparks-Reno workers.

As an attorney friend of mine likes to say, we've gone from being a gambling town to a town with gambling. Which is not to say the overlords behave any differently.

I also got this letter last week in response to a couple of column items that Fitzgerald's Hotel-Casino is converting to timeshares: "Andy: I gotta know — where did you hear this? Is it reliable? My spouse works there and we (and all the other workers) have been strung along since July as to whether they will have a job. Now we are told an announcement will be made Nov. 16 as to what is going to happen. This is the third put-off. We hope for the best but truly expect the worst, like closing right before Christmas."

Casinos will often close just before the start of the next calendar quarter to avoid huge per-table and per-slot machine tax levies, so the fear is genuine. Nevada gaming regulators last week approved Fitzgerald's sale of everything but its Reno hotel to out-of state investors. Fitzgerald's management has denied the timeshare conversion.

If closure is the plan, notice will have to come quickly. Under federal law, larger employers must give 60 days warning to their workers, so Nov. 16 might be moved up a bit if the worst happens.

On the next block from Fitzgerald's, the downtown Reno Flamingo-Hilton closes this Tuesday for conversion to timeshares. The Alliance for Workers Rights has scheduled a demonstration in front of the property at 11:30 a.m. More than 1,000 have lost their jobs. See you there.

Stay of good heart.

Be well. Raise hell.

NevadaLabor.com | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 32-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org/ Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988 .

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