Fighting for justice on the job and at the gas pump


Expanded from the 3-5-00 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

THE OILOGOPOLY STRIKES AGAIN. Sparks-Reno retail gas prices have been the highest in the nation this year as a result of both business and government picking your pocket. Our gas taxes almost always exceed 50 cents a gallon largely because Nevada governments love imposing hidden levies at the cash register.

Combine that with the marketing practices of the west coast oilogopoly, and us high desert hicks get greased like nobody else.

A monopoly (mono meaning one) happens when one guy controls the supply. An oilogopoly exists when a few strangle supply.

An oilogopoly is the reason we're paying so much at the pump.

Three decades ago, oil companies convinced Washington to allow drilling on the Alaska north slope in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Then-Sen. Walter Mondale, D-Minn., warned against opening up Alaska, saying that BigOil would one day move to allow north slope oil to be exported.

Mondale proved correct.

There is no reason for the western U.S. to have an oil shortage. Almost all our gasoline comes from California or Alaska reserves. That's where the oilogopoly comes in.

In 1982, ARCO (recently acquired by British Petroleum) began a predatory pricing scheme designed to eliminate independent gas stations.

The strategy has worked like a charm. The number of indies has fallen by well over half. Retailers have either gone out of business or become major brand outlets.

THE LOCAL GRAVEYARD. If you go to the corner of Kietzke Lane and Grove St. in Reno, you can witness an example. The Terrible Herbst cheap gas independent which once stood there is now a vacant lot. The Terrible Herbst stations which once operated in Sparks are now major brand outlets.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE. ARCO devised a predatory redlining scheme called zone pricing, whereby an ARCO retailer within a certain area of town would sell for far less than an ARCO a mile farther away. Why? To kill or control the independent across the street.

This took advantage of a court-created loophole in the law: it is not illegal for a company to conspire with its own subsidiaries (like gas stations) to fix prices. Other major companies did not need to conspire with ARCO. They could just follow ARCO's prices up or down until the independent joined a major brand or died.

THE NEW MEANING OF FULL SERVICE. For more details about how BigOil cleans your clock and vacuums your pockets every time you fill up, see my 1996 investigative series. You may find continuing followup items printed since that time by using the search engine for "ARCO."

THE DIEHARDS. Having just defeated the largest gambling company in the world, United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 1010 is back. Big time.

Eating substantial quantities of crow, the Reno Hilton is grudgingly obeying a court order to re-hire its illegally terminated security officers.

The Fearless 41 were fired for the sin of forming a union and winning a contract after the Hot August Strike of 1996. No other security guards, before or since, had ever won a labor agreement from a Nevada hotel-casino.

Nevada UPGWA members in the heat in front of the Reno Hilton during the 1996 Hot August Strike during the Hot August Nights rock'n'rods nostalgiafest, the region's largest special event. Left to right are Jack Stratton, Jay Vanderpool, Al Corral, and Chuck Fisher.

Hilton told its non-union guards that they would be protected in the downsizing, but anyone who believes a casino's promise proceeds at his own peril.

The non-union staff was axed along with everyone else in January of 1997. Wal-Mart is currently trying the same thing chainwide just two weeks after its Jacksonville, Texas, meatcutters voted to unionize.

THE MEAT AX. The only way a company can cover its corporate ass in abusing worker rights is to chop a whole department under the pretext that it's a "business decision" dictated by market conditions and unrelated to retaliation.

All the Hilton guards were replaced by a temp service which paid $7.50 per hour rather than the $12 and more the union guards earned.

A federal judge found substantial evidence that Hilton had reviewed subcontracting on two other occasions, scutting the idea both times. Only when employees unionized did Hilton conduct a mass firing and outsourcing. It's flat illegal to can people for exercising their right to organize.

The big, rich gambling company tied matters up in court for the next three years. The little union that refused to die was forced to close its local office, but continued to win every legal round.

In the interim, Local 1010 suffered another setback at Reno's Circus Circus. After more than a year of stonewalling on a contract, the Mandalay Bay-owned casino forced a new election after stocking the pond with enough new anti-union employees to foredoom the outcome.

The Hilton vindication comes too late for Tom Stubblefield, who recently died of cancer at about age 40. He was the sole support of his family. I hope Hilton sends the first check for three years of back pay to his widow.

Most of the union members want their old jobs back, complete with union representation. Having largely been illegally blackballed by casinos in Sparks and Reno, some have not worked a day in three years. Several have lost homes and marriages. One suffered a series of strokes. Another awaits a heart transplant.

The illegally fired guards have until March 13 to apply for reinstatement. A certified letter from Hilton Human Resources Director Lynn Wright directs guards to call Bonnie Swenson at (775) 789-2253. They are supposed to go back to work right after April Fool's Day on April 2. Hilton owes the workers between $3 million and $4 million in back pay and benefits.

A full blow-by-blow description of this admirable fight may be retrieved by using the search engine at this website and sweeping for "Hilton."

Be well. Raise hell.


NevadaLabor.com | 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 four 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 3/5/00.

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