David and Goliath force the worker bees to heel


Expanded from the 5-21-2K Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

The Sparks Tribune has been a David in an industry of fast-growing Goliaths, a throwback to oldtime journalism. You can actually walk in our front door and see people putting out the paper.

The advent of the Apple Macintosh computer lowered the cost of production allowing our transition from laid-back weekly into kickass daily in the summer of 1988.

High-tech made possible Nevada's most diverse editorial page. My colleagues in columny have run the gamut from communist to fascist, libertarian to lop-eared loony, populist to pop-tart.

But we've fallen behind the curve of technology. We have not produced a website. The Trib's earliest web presence came when this column hit the Internet on NevadaWeb in 1996. Dennis Myers may now be found at the Las Vegas Business Press webpage, Ira Hansen at Electric Nevada. When reporter William Puchert joined the paper, he began posting some Tribune stories to Nevada Alternet, his personal news site. (Links to all of the above may be found at NevadaLabor.com)

All that is fine, but it ain't the Trib. Which brings me to the editorial published in last Friday's paper.

I'm ashamed of it. If the Tribune had a website, a quick search of key words could have found related editorials reflecting this paper's editorial tradition. An editorial point of view is supposed to be consisent and we have been.

I've worked under seven editors since 1988. They wrote from a diversity of views, but always with the populist tone established by Randy Frisch, the publisher who turned the paper into a daily.

When Frisch left, so did the practice of indicating by initials which staffer wrote the day's editorial. That's as it should be, because an editorial represents the newspaper's official position.

Last Friday's is the first I have seen which blatantly violated our populist tradition. Over the years, the Tribune editorial page has carried columns and letters spanning the broadest spectrum of viewpoints. But the editorial box has been pretty consistent: little paper sticks up for the little guy.

Until last Friday.

The subject was last Monday's march in downtown Reno by the Kiss My Foot Coalition. It was called to bring attention to the archaic, body-maiming casino practice of forcing female cocktail servers to wear high heels.

"Coalition did not use tact in fighting high-heel requirement," read the title.

Since when do we worry about tact around here? Our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, as Finley Peter Dunne advised so long ago.

"By going public and staging an event like shoe burning, the coalition has immediately made its relationship with casino officials, who hold ultimately hold (sic) the issue's fate in their hands, an adversarial one," the editorial stated.

In last Tuesday's front page story, Bob Ostrovsky, the Nevada Resort Association's longtime employee relations hatchet man, expressed surprise at the protest.

"I've been involved in negotiations since 1973. Quite frankly, I don't ever recall the (Culinary) union bringing forward a proposal to limit this shoe style," Ostrovsky stated.

Actually, the union has filed grievances on several occasions, losing every time. It's ridiculous that an exploitive policy damaging to employee health will now have to be negotiated in a contract, but that appears to be the only remedy. It shows that Nevada remains a paternalistic plantation where workers continue to struggle for respect and dignity.

Read More About It:

Kicking the High Heel Habit

Coalition wants to kick casinos' high heel policies out the door

These heels arenŐt made for walking

Bill Harrah's back and boy, is he pissed

It also shows that employers will perpetuate pudding-headed policies which damage both profits and workers. For the corporate bottom line, injury means inefficiency at best and an increase in health insurance premiums at worst. Has the gambling-industrial complex stopped listening to its own wallet?

Maybe it will now that this protest has won worldwide headlines. Go to the European news magazine "Facts" and see for yourself. It will help if you understand German, but there are enough English words and phrases to allow you to get the sense of Von Andreas Guntert's story.

The Tribune editorial concludes that "while some damage may have been done, the best course of action for the coalition is still to go to casino executives and work with them, not against them, to change policy."

They've tried. Tom Stoneburner of the Alliance for Workers Rights sent a letter to the Nevada Resort Association on March 19. The NRA has yet to respond.

The Trib's editorial told cocktail waitresses that if they don't like being forced to dress like whores, they can always quit. In one day, this paper went from populism to plantation paternalism.

That's not quite as low as the times a couple of our columnists have made statements endorsing racism and discrimination, but it's a contender.

This paper is and should be better than that. If not even the tiny Tribune will stand up for the worker bees of the High Desert Plantation, who will?

UP AGAINST THE WAL-MART. The world's largest retailer just sent out a mass mailing asking for public opinion about building a new superstore at the corner of W. 7th and N. McCarran in northwest Reno. I strongly recommend that you send back their postcards with the "no" box checked.

Nevada's worst problems are caused by overproduction of low-wage jobs. The taxpayers are forced to pay for the resultant proliferation of the working poor who don't make enough for food, shelter and clothing. No matter what you've seen presented on slick, ooey-gooey, touchy-feely TV commercials, Wal-Mart is notorious for part-time work at lousy pay with no benefits.

Be well. Raise hell.


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© 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 5/21/00.

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