Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living


expanded from the 9-12-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

"Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."
--Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1830-1930)


Flagger Mom fought off the tears as she spoke. A father lay dead for no reason. Would I tell people about it?

You may remember meeting her and her peers in this space a few weeks ago in High steel spidermen & flagger moms in orange cone hell.

They have undertaken the second most hazardous line of work in the country, next in danger only to convenience store clerks.

Their job is to get motorists, their co-workers and themselves safely through increasingly risky road construction zones. They have had every projectile known to man hurled at them, from bullets to Buicks.

Fernley Flagger Mom, a member of Laborers' Union Local 169, called at deadline to let me know that one of her friends would not be coming home.

Jefferson Joe Turner, 36, was a foreman and longtime employee of Granite Construction of Sparks.

For such a big industry, the good people who build our roads are a rather tight-knit extended family. Fernley Flagger Mom's husband not only worked the same job, but counted Mr. Turner as a best friend.

Joe Turner met his death last Wednesday when a car hit him on a sun-baked stretch of highway near Hawthorne, Nev. He leaves his wife, Sherri Jacks, 25, and four children. He moved to Nevada 15 years ago from his native West Monroe, La. He was a resident of Silver Springs, Nev., at the time of his death.

His funeral will be held tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at FitzHenry's Funeral Home, 833 N. Edmonds Drive, with burial at Lone Mountain Cemetery, both in Carson City.

His union is establishing a fund at Operating Engineers Local 3 Federal Credit Union. Anyone wishing to donate may contact Stacy DeMartin at (775) 856-2727 or (800) 895-6506.

The Operating Engineers represent workers like Mr. Turner as well as Sparks city employees and open pit miners.

They also work for those who deal in other matters of life and death.

Read More About It:

the Flagger Moms' Safety Campaign

the campaign to organize Northern Nevada Health Care Workers

the Citifare unionbusters


Earlier this year, the Engineers won an election to represent nurses at Elko General Hospital. Last Thursday, they won another ballot among service and maintenance employees there. Last Friday, the Elko nurses voted in favor of their first contract which now places them in a select minority of Nevada workers: they can no longer be fired at employer whim, but only for just cause.

The Engineers' success in Elko generated organizing interest at every health care facility in Northern Nevada, a not unexpected reaction to accountants making most medical decisions.

This week, they are locked in an ugly fight with the management of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center. Voting begins Tuesday.

I have never been able to fully understand why some people are so willing to declare war on their own workers for the sin of speaking up for themselves (and in the case of nurses, for their patients). Part of it lies in the billion-dollar union busting industry which has grown like a cancer over the past quarter-century.

They have found it easy to drum up business from executives inexperienced in dealing with well-organized employees. They create fear and insecurity by appealing to old anti-union stereotypes and CEO macho. These $500,000-a-year execs meekly turn over their entire operations to professional enforcers whose job it is to break the employees' collective will by any means necessary.

Current market rates run about $1,000 per day per union-buster, and sometimes much more. St. Mary's employees have told me that the hospital has budgeted up to $6 million to defeat their nurses. I've also heard stories about huge bonuses for executives and their "union avoidance consultants" if they beat the workers in this week's vote.

Apparently, no one has noticed that if they had just put that kind of money into hiring more nurses, there would have been no union drive.

The issues at St. Mary's are the same as Elko or Washoe Medical Center, whose nurses voted to unionize a few months ago. The health care workers say patients are endangered because of short-staffing.

One nurse told me of being left alone to care for four extremely ill people. One was so sick, he required one-on-one attention. Another patient had to call his wife to take care of him until the critical individual was out of danger. The poor nurse was reprimanded for properly reporting the incident. Nevada has no labor law to protect whistleblowers.

I was born in a Catholic hospital and raised in a Christian tradition foreign to what I see at St. Mary's. Although Pope John Paul II has called unions "indispensible," the nuns who run the 48-hospital Catholic Healthcare West chain hired union busters to crush their workers. Only intervention by a cardinal called off the dogs. (Los Angeles Times, 9-5-99)

If anybody knows Nevada Bishop Phillip Straling, please call him at (775) 329-9274.

St. Mary's and Washoe nurses are hosting a rally at Pickett Park in front of Washoe Medical Center from noon to 4:00 p.m. today. I trust they will say a prayer for union operating engineer Joe Turner and his family.

GOOD FRIDAY? At 9:00 a.m. this Friday, Citifare bus drivers and dispatchers go before the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County to ask that their pay cut be restored. Citifare management shunted an unauthorized $113,841 to import 36 Cincinnati strikebreakers for a June work stoppage which never happened. At over $3,000 each, that's pretty good money for not working.

But nowhere near what a St. Mary's union buster makes.

Be well. Raise hell.


Nevada Labor | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 9/12/99.

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