Hot August Strike 2002 — Deja vu all over again

Expanded from the 8-11-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Sparks-Reno taxpayers are getting a free education this month. They are learning how their government uses public money to bust unions and disrupt people's lives.

First, let me give you the players in the game. The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) is comprised of five elected officials: John Mayer of Sparks, Dave Rigdon and Dave Aiazzi from Reno, Jim Shaw and Ted Short from Washoe County. Shaw is a former Sparks city councilman whose county commission district includes the Rail City. Rumor has it that Shaw is considering a run for Sparks mayor next year.

Some years ago, the dim bulbs on RTC opted to contract with a management company to run the bus system. It's been a longstanding fact of doing business in Nevada that many decision makers operate under the assumption that people from the big city must know more than us local hicks. To take advantage of out-of-town syndrome, I've seen guys at local branch offices bring in one of their people from Peoria to make a sales pitch.

Our local officials still labor under the conceit that somebody from out of state knows more than the garden variety Nevada yahoo. In the case of RTC, they can even be snooty. Their management company was acquired by a British multinational in 1999. (Americans always think Brits are classier than we are 'cause they talk funny. Victorian Square in Sparks was originally planned to have faux-British bobbycops walking around. Imagine that in a wild west railroad town.)

For the privilege of vicarious participation in British snobbery, RTC pays something called Transit Management of Washoe County (UK-based First Group's name for its local office) the princely sum of $27,019 per month, according to the contract which expires next year. For that, us yokels get the services of three — count 'em — three guys. I think with a little work anyone could find a whole bunch of qualified people to mismanage a bus system for less than $9,000 a head.

BADGE OF SERVICE -- 1996 "Hot August Strike" stick-on lapel patches are today collector's items in the Nevada Labor Hall of Fame.

I've been on the line with the local union bus drivers against RTC for years. According to Mark Tracy of Teamsters Local 533, the RTC held a closed meeting on July 31 and gave their British hooligans a blank check to break the union. They were advised by their lawyer that they had no choice under the management contract. I've read it and can find no such reference.

I sincerely hope that our elected officials knew not what they did, but I have a hard time believing that. The majority were on RTC three years ago when a strike was avoided by a cat's whisker.

RTC/TMW has given the public an education in textbook union busting. First, make a final offer you know will precipitate a strike. In this case, it was a pay cut. Adjusted for inflation, the proposed two percent per year raise is actually a decrease piled on a similar slash from 1999.

Once the workers have gone on strike, bring in strikebreakers at any cost to replace them, then fight them in the courts for years and hope they'll go away. The Reno Hilton pretty did much the samething to its security staff after the Hot August Strike of 1996, but the Security Police and Fire Professionals union whipped them in court. The Hilton now has the only unionized security staff at any Nevada hotel-casino.

The seeds for the current strike/lockout were sown three years ago. The following passages are from the Barbwire of July 18, 1999 —


Ryder/ATE, the corporate conglomerate which mismanages the Citifare bus system, cost Washoe County taxpayers $136,083 for unneeded hired muscle during last month's contentious contract negotiations with the Teamsters Union.

On behalf of Citifare employees, I asked the Regional Transportation Commission to disallow $106,861 of that figure. It went to pay 36 Cincinnati strikebreakers to stand around. That's almost $3,000 each and it was done without permission of the
elected officials on the board.

STRIKE AVOIDED (6-20-99) - Teamsters Local 533 CEO Lou Martino, on a live KOLO TV-8 newscast, announces that there will be no Sparks-Reno RTC/Citifare bus strike. Reporter Beryl Chong interviewed Martino immediately after the vote at the union offices on Vassar Street in Reno. A Teamsters Citifare driver, on his normal route, just happened to pass by during the live telecast. He honked.

RTC Executive Director Derek Morse and Transit Manager Mike Steele squealed to the commission to save their butts, that it was an emergency situation with a strike looming.

I pointed out that such an emergency should have triggered a special public meeting to approve the funds. A vote could easily have been taken at the RTC's regularly scheduled meeting of June 18, three days before the expiration of strike deadline extension.

The emergency existed only in their three-piece-suited minds. There has never been a bus strike here, let alone violence. That money could have gone to employees who were denied a raise which might have kept them even with the cost of living.

Ryder/ATE held workers to a two percent increase while taking a four percent hike (about $1,000 a month) for itself...Reno councilmen David Aiazzi and David Rigdon (a 1993 client of mine), expressed a desire to make things right by the shortchanged workers. (NOTE - It never happened.)


Perhaps the saddest part about the 1999 fiasco lay in the fact that Mr. Steele and his crew were authorized to grant the workers a three percent raise, which would have kept them about even with the consumer price index. They decided instead to grind their employees down.

Before the company locked out the workers last Friday, the union's attorney offered to temporarily reinstate the old contract, which expired in June, complete with its no-strike clause. This would have restored the bus service during the Hot August Nights nostalgiafest. RTC/TMW refused because the strategy from day one has been to give this town a course in union-busting 101.

It has been and will continue to be a painful lesson.

Much more on the web.

GOT A GRIPE ABOUT CHARTER CABLE? This Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., air your case at Reno City Hall. The fat cable provider's franchise is up for renewal with the City of Reno. The forum will be cablecast live on SNCAT Channel 13 with reruns later in the week. (Thursday, Aug. 15, 12:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 17, 3:00 p.m. Watch the SNCAT website for additional times.)

If you're interested in forming a cable consumer organization, please contact me.

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© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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