Ripped off and screwed over from Reno to Rio
Gomorrah South recently made George Magazine's list of the 10 most corrupt U.S. cities. Las Vegas used its power of condemnation to give choice downtown land to casinos for a parking garage.
We should expect as much from a town which subsidizes its enclosed
downtown casino center by calling it a city park, then tries to keep the
public out. If such legalized robbery is good enough for Vegas, it's good
enough for us.
This week, Reno decided to keep pace. The unelected Reno airport
moguls, with trustee Larry Martin dissenting, voted to condemn the homes of
the Rewana Farms holdouts, some of whom built homes in that neighborhood
four or five decades ago and want to stay.
The airport claims the residents need to have their homes bulldozed
to save them from jet noise. None of the residents complain about it, and
studies don't back up the airport position.
Nonetheless, it has become necessary to destroy the neighborhood in
order to save it.
The land is unneeded and (clip and save this prediction) will be
turned over for private use within a few years.
In honor of the raped and pillaged Rewana homeowners, I inaugurate
what (alas) will be a recurring feature: Who's Been Screwed Over Now.
1. K-MART MECHANIC CLAIR WHITE, fired for the crime of installing
an electric switch upside down. It worked just fine, but Sparks K-Mart
Warehouse management called it unsafe. After more than nine years of
exemplary work, how could a guy screw up so badly?
Could it have anything to do with Mr. White's status as the most
active union organizer in the sprawling complex? Illegally firing
dissidents is a primary tactic employed by $2,000-a-day union busters.
These vampires make millions by oppressing little people. Illegal
termination is just part of the cost of doing business. If somebody's
reinstated by the feds a few years down the road, who cares? By that time,
you'll have ousted the union and punished everyone involved.
(For more information on how this badger game is played, read
"Confessions of a Union Buster" by Martin Levitt of Las Vegas. He's
currently in the thick of the fight against his former colleagues now
trying to keep the Teamsters out of the Rio Hotel-Casino.)
Clair and Gayle White told me they've had trouble sleeping since
Mr. White was fired last Wednesday. You'd lose sleep if you were in danger
of losing your home. George Ponsock lost sleep, too.
Back in the Reagan '80s, Mr. Ponsock was canned on similar trumped
up charges in a K-Mart attempt to void his pension benefits which were
about to fully vest at 10 years. Like Mr. White, he had worked more than
nine years and was rated an excellent employee. A Washoe District Court
jury awarded him $443,120 in back pay and damages, but not before the
family home went into foreclosure. Upholding the judgment, the Nevada
Supreme Court (732 P.2d 1363) noted that "Ponsock was given no opportunity
to explain the incident."
Clair White is undergoing instant replay. He says his termination
papers were prepared before he could defend himself. Ponsock's crime
involved using a damaged 89-cent can of spray paint on a spot where battery
acid had spilled on his fork lift. He was accused of "defacing company
property...with misappropriated merchandise...on company time," the court
"When the State Department of Unemployment inquired of K-Mart
management regarding the reason for Ponsock's termination, K-Mart, in
referring to Ponsock's retrieval and use of the spray paint, characterized
Ponsock as a thief," Justice Charles Springer wrote for a unanimous Nevada
Ironically, George Ponsock's son is a member of Operating Engineers
Local 3, the union organizing K-Mart.
2. I AIN'T BROKE, BUT I'M BADLY BENT. Like K-Mart, Minden-based
Bently Nevada fought the unemployment compensation claims of Carlene O'Neil
and Jessica Gomes. They were wrongfully terminated after asking other
workers to sign for UPS parcels during last summer's Teamsters strike. (See
the 3-8-98 Barbwire at The Nevada Labor Pages. For the original story
and photos, scroll down U-News at that website. Also read the Barbwire of
When the two women filed for unemployment help, Bently tried to
keep them from getting any money to help through hard times. Teamsters
Union attorneys, representing the two non-union women, appealed and won.
The National Labor Relations Board just ordered Bently to reinstate
O'Neil and Gomes or face federal trial.
Looks like the company's going to fight and stick you and me with
the bill. Legal and union busting fees are deductible from federal income
tax, so we get to subsidize further oppression of two courageous ladies now
working at low-wage casino jobs.
(For further information, read the Carson City Nevada Appeal March 11: "Bently must again face off against women fired during UPS strike" and March 12: "Bently may have to post sign saying it wrongfully fired two women").
3. GO WELLS FARGO YOURSELF. Wells Fargo Bank lost more than
$100,000 in local deposits last Wednesday, a result of a United
Steelworkers campaign supporting employees locked out at CF&I/Oregon Steel
in Pueblo, Colo. The union claims to have cost Wells Fargo more than $60
million in deposits to date.
What does that mean to you?
Follow the bouncing ball: Wells Fargo is the lead lender financing
Oregon Steel's worker lockout. Union Pacific Railroad is a major customer
UP wants to triple the number of trains and double their speed
through downtown Reno and Sparks. They will soon carry nuclear as well as
hazardous cargo. UP wants to pay for only cosmetic safety precautions.
Two Union Pacific executives sit on the Gannett Newspapers
corporate board. One is Drew Lewis, former Reagan transportation secretary,
who masterminded the merger with Southern Pacific which is the source of
Reno's current dilemma.
The Reno Gannett-Journal has absolutely refused repeated requests
to reveal the interlocking directorate to its readers. (I even asked the
paper's editor about it face-to-face when we participated on a Reno PBS TV
program about local censorship following the telecast of "Fear & Favor in
the Newsroom" on Feb. 27.)
Gannett has illegally locked out its protesting union workers at
the Detroit News, some of whom are Teamsters, as are some aggrieved Union
Pacific Overnight Transportation employees.
Worst but not least, just after taking over First Interstate Bank
of Nevada, Wells Fargo fired workers just before Christmas '96. They have
also tried to beat Nevadans out of pension benefits. Sound familiar?
4. INSECURITY GUARDS brought their former boss to trial last week.
Ex-Reno Hilton guards charge they were fired for unionizing. Odds are they
may win, but homes have been lost and marriages destroyed. One terminated
union member was hospitalized with a heart attack just before last week's
proceedings. I've been told that Hilton has been sending private
investigators to its former workers' homes. (For more details, read the
Barbwire of 8-31-97 at The Nevada Labor Pages; also scroll down U-News
at that site.)
5. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE. Attend a rally at 10:30 a.m. Monday, March
16, at the Washoe County Courthouse. Surviving Sierra Chemical workers
will attest to the deplorable conditions at the mining explosives
manufacturing plant which exploded last January, killing four. (See the
Barbwire of 1-11-98, "Only a few brown Mexicans died, so who cares?")
6. DYING TO HELP. Kjerstin Ferro of Las Vegas almost died last year
from pregnancy complications. She says she was refused emergency treatment
by University Medical Center because no doctors on duty were part of her
"They were ready to revive me in case I died before my doctor
arrived," she told me.
I tried for three months to find her a lawyer. Although she did
lose a fallopian tube, there was apparently not enough monetary damage
So she lives with the memory of all that pain and a lost child. Her
doctor said "when he got to the hospital, I had less than a liter of blood
left in my body and was very close to dying," she asserts.
She came within 10 minutes of dropping off the HMO charts forever.
Wonder if death would have constituted enough damage to attract
Be well. Raise hell.
© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 3/15/98.