Hitting on 16: Nevada workers have the right to lose
From the 7-11-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 5-25-2012

This is a test and I bet you'll get the answers wrong.

QUESTION ONE: According to the Reno Police Department, who ranks lowest?

A. Casino executives
B. Casino workers
C. City employees
D. Ex-felons

Nevada is a "right to work" state, which would seem to mean that you have the right to work for the employer of your choice. That's one of several myths slated for execution by the end of this column.

For those new to this plantation, no one can work in a Nevada casino without what is known as a "police card" or "work card." You must have your papers here in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.

Workers, particularly of the casino variety, rate as third class citizens or worse. It goes back to the old days when Reno casino owners wore guns to work and operated on the assumption that everyone, including employees and family members, would steal if given half a chance.

THREE MUSKETEERS — Among the demonstrators at the April, 1995, downtown Reno labor march on the Flamingo Hilton were (left to right) news/talk radio legend Travus T. Hipp (a veteran member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the venerable IWW Wobblies); CWA Local 9413 member Andrew Barbano and hard-charging labor lawyer Timothy Sears. Sears acted as attorney for Ha Jenny Ngo against the behemoth Hilton Hotel Corp., the world's largest gambling company, now known as Park Place Entertainment. Park Place has acquired both Bally's and Caesar's Palace casino properties.( photo)

A few days ago, my old friend Tom "Stony" Stoneburner, a longtime casino security guard, journeyed to the Reno Police Department to renew his work card.

As Stony waited, "a man entered the lobby, spoke to a lady at the reception desk, entered the closed police card print room, and exited a few minutes later. This happened twice as the group of approximately 10 applicants sat outside," he wrote in a July 6 letter to Reno Police Chief Jerry Hoover.

"The group outside angrily remarked about this obvious display of privilege," Stoneburner wrote. He asked the woman in charge who these people were.

"City employees," came the response.

"I was first in line," Stoneburner wrote the chief.

"While I was signing in on the sign-in sheet, I noticed that two people had already signed in...I asked the clerk how two people had already been processed. The clerk said they were 'city employees.' I read the entries and saw that they were in fact executives in the gaming industry," Stoneburner continued.

"When I pointed this out, the clerk said 'they had appointments.' I asked if I could get an appointment. The now very curt clerk said 'you're holding up the line.'"

After the standard mug-and-fingerprint indignities of being treated as a criminal in order to keep his job, Stoneburner asked to see a supervisor. The woman explained that in addition to casino execs, both city workers and ex-felons are also given appointments.

So the answer to Question One is "B."

Stoneburner is treasurer of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and director of the Alliance for Workers' Rights. He'll pass along the chief's response, if any.

QUESTION TWO: The state may not deprive you of

A. Your right to work
B. Your right to keep and bear arms
C. Your civil rights
D. Your protection against wrongful termination
E. None of the above

While you might labor under the myth that you have these rights under the law, in practice, you don't.

GUNS AND BUTTER. Firearms are always a hot topic, but this column is about bread and butter. The gambling-industrial complex has made sure Nevada breadwinners have no rights under the law.

With respect to civil rights, abandon hope all ye who enter here. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled it okay to fire Las Vegas apartment managers who protested their employer's overt racism in not renting to blacks. (Bigelow v. Bullard, 901 P.2d 630, 1995)

When the Las Vegas Hilton fired more than three dozen casino dealers and replaced them with young, comely wenches, those terminated sued and won a large judgment. The gambling industry went to the legislature and got punitive damages barred in wrongful termination lawsuits. Those dealers today would find suing not worth the trouble, as a Reno Hilton cocktail waitress recently learned.

Ha Jenny Ngo was fired for the sin of going into labor (not as in union, but as in baby) while on shift. The day she returned from the hospital after a very difficult childbirth, her supervisor asked her to come on down. He didn't tell her it was to receive a pink slip retroactive to the day she entered the hospital, voiding her health insurance.

A jury ruled Hilton guilty of sex and race discrimination but the judge would not allow punitive damages. A federal appellate court agreed. Federal courts usually look to state law and in Nevada, punitive damages have been prohibited by our citizen legislature. She got a puny $9,000 in back pay and medical costs and a generous $3,000 for emotional distress.

In April of 1998, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ban on punitive damages, stating that imposing such sanctions requires "conduct more egregious than intentional discrimination."

In its 3-0 ruling, the learned judges added that proof of an "evil motive or a conscious and deliberate disregard" for the victim's civil rights is necessary.

Lynching, perhaps?

Long-suffering labor lawyer Timothy Sears said he was surprised by the ruling.

"Isn't intentionally discriminating against people based on their skin color outrageous? What more can the court demand? We certainly admit that no one burned a cross on Jenny's lawn, but is that what someone has to do? This means an employer can systematically engage in race and sex discrimination and will never face punishment." (Associated Press/Reno Gazette-Journal, 4-10-98)

The Nevada Supreme Court legalized age discrimination a decade ago. (Sands Regent v. Valgardson, 105 Nev. 436, 777 Pac. 898, July 26, 1989)

Workers who bring wrongful termination actions have been placed in a special category of plaintiff. Anyone else can bring a lawsuit by filling out the forms and stating a valid cause of action. Ex-employees alone must provide corroboration of their own sworn testimony or face dismissal without a trial. (Yeager v. Harrah's Club, Inc., 897 P2d 1093, 1995)

The gambling industry got a blackball bill passed in 1997 to allow casinos to share personnel information with each other without fear of a libel suit. Although industry lobbyists filled the air with platitudes that the law would still protect people from discrimination, it's a simple matter to invent code words with which to blacklist people. For instance, "trouble maker" could signify union sympathizer.

Casinos have had blackball codes built into their hiring practices for decades. It just took awhile to legalize some of it.

One group of casinos "categorically discriminates against any and all applicants that had once worked for a union," one former personnel manager told me.

"Even if the applicant was perfectly qualified for the job, if there was union 'exposure,' that person would not even get an interview," the executive said.

"Discovering 'exposed' applicants was actually quite simple. During the screening process that all applicants go through, the screener reviews the applicant's work history for the past 10 years and red-flags employment with obvious union exposure.

"Perhaps the most simple is Circus-Circus because it is one of the only casinos in Reno that has a union. Former employees of Circus-Circus were probably discriminated against most often. We also passed on most applicants that worked in Las Vegas or San Francisco because their casinos and restaurants are predominately unionized.

"Any applicant that had once worked as a correctional officer in a prison, a police officer, a teacher, a federal, state or city worker, a utility worker, or in the construction industry was automatically presumed to have been 'exposed' to unions and therefore a 'pass' - office code for 'do not hire.'

"As a matter of fact, an unusually high wage in a short period of time was cause enough for suspicion."

The manager described how personnel screeners would call an applicant's former employers if they were not sure about "exposure." Pretending to be job applicants themselves, the casino reps would inquire about unionization and if they found any, the applicant, no matter how well qualified, was dead.

"They were neurotic about ensuring there was no paper trail and repeatedly commented how illegal the practice was," the former executive said.

Overall, Nevada courts have given workers little while maintaining the Silver State's pro-employer, fire-at-will environment. Without a personal services or union contract, Nevada workers have no rights under state law.

Most people think their mythical "right to work" protects them from wrongful termination.


Nevada is a "fire at will" state.

"Right to work" laws are designed not to help workers but to kill unions, forcing labor organizations to spend dues money representing non-members. After 50 years of union-busting under the right to work law (see last week's column), Nevada workers have less clout than cattle.

Unless you have a written contract from your bosses detailing your rights and obligations (ask for one and see how hard they laugh) or stand among the fortunate few to work union, you have no rights.

Unions remain the last defenders of the right to work which most workers mistakenly believe they have.

Be well. Raise hell.


More about the lack of Nevada workers' rights

Barbwire 1-29-2012

Conservative lawsuit could return Right-to-Work to the voters (11-23-03)

Right-to-Work & Evil Twin Spawned 50 Years Ago Today (7-4-99)

History of Right-to-Work-for-Less in Nevada


© 1999-2005, 2012 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and head of Casinos Out of Politics (COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial campaign manager for State Senator Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas.
Since 1988, Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune, where an earlier version of this column appeared on 7/11/99.


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