to fire & evil twin spawned 50 years ago today
From the 7-4-99
Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
The Fourth of July will always be tarnished for Nevada workers.
Monday, July 4, 1949, marked the moment they began morphing from people
into interchangeable parts.
TO THE FUTURE?
(8-20-2007) Because of management stonewalling (standing
fast on an offer of a measly 13-cent per hour raise!), Culinary
Local 226 has scheduled strike votes on Aug. 30 for its members
at the Grand Sierra (formerly the Reno Hilton, northern Nevada's
largest gambling property) and Circus Circus in downtown Reno.
Deja vu all over again
More than 600 union protestors line up at Circus Circus to
march through downtown Reno on 2-18-2000 in support of Culinary
Union contract negotiations. Current Secretary-Treasurer D.
Taylor led the workers.
In an attempt to win fair wages, members of the Culinary
Union walked off the job on what was then Sparks-Reno's busiest weekend
of the year.
Tourists were nonetheless well-treated at strike and non-strike
establishments. People remained fairly amicable while visitors were here.
Some of the richest men in town, including legendary developer
and political power broker Norman Biltz, worked as strikebreaking
bartenders. They high-heartedly announced they would donate their wages
to the strikers. The matter was settled by July 8.
The new contract called for fry cooks at first-tier gambling
halls to earn $1.375 per hour. A captain or hostess would earn $1.00 per
That was almost 700 points down the consumer price index.
Northern Nevada wage scales today remain lower than 1949
union rates, adjusted for inflation.
According to the Nevada Employment Security Dept., the average
restaurant cook in Reno makes about $8.50 per hour. Her Gomorrah South
counterpart earns about $10.00.
In 1949, their Reno ancestors made a union rate equal to
$9.27. Las Vegas will almost always average higher than Reno today due
to the much higher degree of union penetration in Southern Nevada. (The
figures are for 1997, the most recent year available.)
Maybe tips were lower in 1949. A Nineties bartender in Reno
averages $6.85 an hour, $8.43 in Las Vegas. A 1949 Reno mixologist earned
$10.32 adjusted for inflation.
A modern era Reno host averages about $6.50 an hour, a Las
Vegan gets about $8.00. When grandpa met grandma in Reno in 1949, a host
was making $6.74 union scale, adjusted for inflation. 
Rep. Walter Baring, D-Nev., delivered a warning at
the 1949 Sparks Labor Day celebration held in "B" Street Park.
(They may call it Victorian Blvd. today, but to me, it will always be
"The Taft-Hartley law takes away 'the hard-won rights'
of labor and in their place clamps handcuffs on the union man and the
union,'" Baring said, according to the September 6, 1949, Reno
"Mr. Baring spoke of the need for proper employer-management
relations using Sparks as an example of a 'wholesome and healthy relationship'
between the two," the Gazette continued.
Today, Baring Blvd. snakes through a Sparks filled with union
demonstrations as increasingly frustrated workers shout to high heaven
for a fair piece of the pie.
It was not always thus. In 1927, the Reno Chamber of Commerce
published a commemorative book for the Nevada
Transcontinental Highways Exposition held in Idlewild Park.
For that event, the Golden State built the California Building
which still stands today.
"Labor conditions in Reno are ideal," the chamber
of commerce gushed. "With the close bond between the buyer and seller
of labor, strikes are unknown in Reno...All trades in Reno are on a union
MARCH FOR JUSTICE
Northern Nevada union members and their families march with
hotel and restaurant workers in front of the Reno Flamingo Hilton
in April of 1995. In 1994, Carpenters Hotel-Casino Workers Local
777/AFL-CIO won the first contested election for a large group of
Reno hotel workers since the old Riverside Hotel in 1974. The Flamingo
stonewalled negotiations with the Carpenters, but in 1999 agreed
to recognize Culinary Local 86 to represent most of its non-gambling
employees. Alas, Hilton sold the hotel shortly thereafter. Workers
at the now-Golden Phoenix have no union contract.
What happened to that well-paid workers paradise of which
Congressman Baring spoke in 1949?
The Republican-controlled congress in 1947 passed the Taft-Hartley
Act over President Harry Truman's veto. It allowed states to enact
what became known as right-to-work laws.
The "Committee of One Thousand" formed to break
the 1949 Culinary Fourth of July strike became the nucleus of a petition
campaign which succeeded in narrowly passing Nevada's right-to-work law
That measure forces unions to treat non-dues-paying non-members
as union members in most respects. Non-union members receive union-negotiated
wages and benefits. Unions must represent non-members in grievance and
Forced to provide services without compensation, labor organizations
have gradually weakened over the decades. Everyone's wages reflect that
I have always felt that "right to work" laws represent
an illegal taking of private property without compensation under the Fifth
Amendment to our Constitution.
I think people should be able to voluntarily join unions,
but their unions should not be forced to spend member dues money serving
non-members who take a free ride on the labor of others.
Wages have not been the only casualty.
Nevada progressives recently shocked the country by winning
passage of a law adding sexual orientation to the list of employee classes
protected against discrimination. One lobbyist was amazed to find herself
"in the majority on this one."
Top gun gambling industry lobbyists, acting as individuals,
even testified in favor of the bill. The new governor signed it into law.
No one has noticed that if it made any difference, it would never have
Right-to-work has an equally evil twin. Nevada is a fire-at-will
state where people may be terminated for no reason at all. Workers, gay
or otherwise, have always been treated the same as disposable.
If somebody doesn't like the color of your eyes, your skin
or your consort, you can be fired without recourse. State supreme court
decisions basically legalized age discrimination a decade ago.
Nevada workers stand so low today that they have no rights
without a personal or union contract.
Fifty years ago today marked the beginning of the end of
Nevada as a decent place to work. Paychecks and dignity have dwindled
Happy Independence Day. Don't
spend your good fortune all in one place.
Be well. Raise hell.
© 1999-2005, 2006, 2007, 2012 Andrew Barbano
Barbano is a member of Communications
Workers of America Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of
U-News and head of
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 7/4/99.