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 record states.

"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 Supreme Court.

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 8-17-97.)

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 of Oregon.

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 HMO.

"They were ready to revive me in case I died before my doctor arrived," she told me.

How caring.

I tried for three months to find her a lawyer. Although she did lose a fallopian tube, there was apparently not enough monetary damage potential.

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 legal counsel?

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.