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BARBWIRE

Labor Day '97: The home run strike
by
ANDREW BARBANO
From the 8-31-1997 Daily Sparks Tribune

"How will labor come back? In a strike. That's not romanticism, that's a fact. It'll start with one plant. One plant. And they strike. And there'll be guys across the street at a second plant, and they see it, and they think 'Hmm, maybe we can do that.' And they win. Then somebody in Idaho does it, the same thing, independently. And then all of a sudden you're seeing some John L. Lewis again, a leader, but he gets thrown up, he's just riding the thing...That's not romanticism, that's a fact." Ed Sadlowski

Chicago steelworker Sadlowski made that wishful prediction during the darkest days of Reaganomics and Bushwhacking. Today, he looks successfully psychic. For once, Reno-Sparks was way ahead of the wave.

Last summer's Hot August Strike during the Hot August Nights rockfest was the precursor of better times for workers in this country. A hearty band of about 45 Reno Hilton security guards took on the biggest behemoth in the gambling industrial complex and won. They became the first unionized casino security guards in Nevada

Hilton fired them for their success last January, but sometimes there is justice in the world. Reno Hilton president Ferenc Szony was fired a few months later. Just last Thursday came good news and bad news. The National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against Hilton. By firing the unionized guards and subcontracting their jobs to low-paid temps, Hilton "has discriminated and is discriminating in regard to the hire or tenure or terms or conditions of employment" in violation of federal law, the complaint asserts. A trial begins in Reno on September 23.

In light of the charges, United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 1010 asked for an injunction ordering the outsourced workers immediately back to work. Many have found other positions or moved out of the area. Some have been blackballed, gone on welfare or lost their homes. Now, there is new hope and dark irony.

Industry rumor has it that Szony will soon become CEO of the Sands Regency Hotel-Casino. As described here a few weeks ago, when the Sands fired two female dealers in 1986 to replace them with young wenches, the resulting court decision legalized age discrimination in Nevada. On Szony's watch, the Reno Hilton a lost a case for firing a cocktail waitress for pregnancy.

His tyrranical rule pushed people to work while sick, resulting in more than 1,000 cases of fecal contamination food poisoning. He should fit in very well at the Sands, which has long been just about the most oppressive employer in Reno.

The Hot August Strikes worked magic. The UPS walkout made the Teamsters a family again. Workers and the media focused on employee rights, a subject not taught in school anymore.

When Carlene O'Neil and Jessica Gomes were fired by Bently-Nevada in Minden for refusing to sign for UPS packages, they had no idea of their rights under federal law until I told them. Now, the feds are going to bat for them, too.

Thanks to the sacrifices of these courageous people, northern Nevada workers now have hope. They have been reminded that federal law and labor unions are still around and can be effective when people stick together. Reno Air flight attendants voted in the Teamsters. Unions are busy organizing workers at K-Mart, in downtown Reno and Sparks redevelopment projects, at mines, gambling companies and places which have never dreamed of such things. Even the mighty culinary union may finally organize some northern Nevada casinos.

Workers need only look around them to see the alternative: backslapping instead of decent pay. Many hotels hereabouts are still big mom and pop stores. The owners still work the joints and put workers on a guilt trip for even thinking about better compensation. Many must make do with a hearty slap on the back from the boss as they scurry out the door to a second job to make the rent.

The Eldorado and Silver Legacy host big parties in appreciation of tourism industry workers—at least a certain segment thereof. As the Tribune exclusively revealed last week, Eldorado policy forbids workers to speak to each other in any language other than English. If something's burning and you scream "fuego" of "fuocco" instead of "fire," I guess you're fired. Even during Cinco de Mayo or the Italiano festival

A recent survey by Connecticut-based Business and Legal reports showed that nine of 10 employers use temps while 50% hire part-timers on an open-ended basis. Those are the seeds of new UPS-style strikes across the land as workers finally realize they've been losing ground for 25 years and their only strength lies in numbers.

You've got to get mad for your pay to get even. Before you can hit a home run, you've got to make a strike. Viva huelga!

Happy Labor Day.

Be well. Raise hell.


© 1982-2003, 2010 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.

Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.



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