Three bears break into labor's
VEGASI went to a party in fantasyland but the fairy tale
proved dull, indeed. Papa Bear and Mama Bear poured thin gruel.
Baby Bear crashed the gate and charmed the crowd, but could not
conceal his immaturity. Goldilocks was marked absent and everyone
was left longing for a knight on a dark horse.
Thus went the 1997 Nevada
AFL-CIO convention last week at the Tropicana down in Gomorrah
South. Delegates representing more than 120,000 Nevada workers
assembled at the former Tiffany of the Strip. The hotel which
in the 1960's gave me my first Nevada job has now become a bit
of a faded queen, eclipsed by bigger, flashier properties.
The old Folies Bergere showroom
remains pretty much the same, along with some remnants of faded
class now cheaply pasted over with pseudo-Disney false fronts.
Like much of Las Vegas, the old Tropicana is a building with
an obviously bad boob job. Most rubes won't notice because they
don't remember pre-plastic reality. The main room show is even
a throwback to the past, "The Best of the Folies Bergere,"
featuring re-treaded segments of various versions of the once
The Tropicana was thus a potentially
perfect literary symbol waiting for interpretation. Did she represent
organized labor trying to refresh a tired act? Not really. Unlike
other parts of the country, unions already stand renewed here
in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream. Where they
represent only some 14 percent of the workforce nationally, a
full 25 percent of Nevadans now labor with union cards in their
So who fit the tired Tropicana
analogy? I submit Goldilocks and the Three Bears, political players
purloining porridge from a house in which they really didn't
Papa bear was played by pretty
Kenny Guinn, the over-rated mogul with the movie star looks who
came before the convention to connect with the commoners. Mama
Bear's part went to Nevada attorney general Frankie Sue Del Papa,
who has for years taken worker votes for granted because of the
"D" after her name.
PAPA BEAR: The annual
labor confab became the debutante ball of wealthy Las Vegas businessman
Guinn. Although he has neither sought nor held public office,
he sports more than a million bucks in his campaign war chest.
As a wise old Nevada judge
told me long ago, a few hundred grand can go a long way toward
making just about anybody a respectable citizen. By that standard,
we have an awesome figure, indeed, in the former S&L and Southwest
Gas CEO, Clark County School District super and two-time-temp-UNLV
Guinn started off telling
of his humble beginnings with his family of itinerant farm workers
in the sweaty San Joaquin Valley. He told a gut wrenching story
of the family's humiliating loss of a day's pay from a cruel
farmer. "I'll never forget the expression on my father's
face as we left," Guinn said, launching into a vague sermon
about a subsequent lifelong quest for fairness to workers.
The facts of his life are
somewhat different. Guinn once bragged about keeping unions out
of Southwest Gas when he headed the regional utility. Last week,
he admitted to reporters that he took campaign money from the
despised Elardi family, proprietors of the Frontier Hotel-Casino,
site of the longest running strike in the country. In an earlier
speech, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), bashed the Frontier for
its worker cruelties, including putting excrement into food.
I felt personally insulted
by Guinn because I, too, am the son of Fresno farm workers. But
my family did more than walk away dejectedly when the boss tried
to rip them off. My mom joined a union and later went on strike.
Guinn spoke of putting together
study committees to promote labor-management harmony if elected
governor. That's the equivalent of letting the Trojan horse through
the gates. Management is not labor's good buddy. While usually
not enemies, they are always adversaries. That healthy tension
is good for democracy, as former Reagan-Ford-Nixon cabinet member
George Shultz has said. (See the Reno Gazette-Journal labor day
guest editorial by Richard "Skip" Daly of Laborers'
Union Local 169 at www.nevadalabor.com)
"Not just rhetoricresults,"
Guinn chirped, an empty slogan most probably penned by my old
friend Sig Rogich, campaign adman for Reagan and Bush. Guinn
even stole a line from Clinton campaign manager James Carville:
"You have two things to give, your love and your labor,"
Guinn said, a direct lift without attribution from Carville's
But Guinn never used the word
union. Not once. The audience noticed. Labor listened to the
vapid Guinn because the only announced Democrat in the race has
proven a disappointment.
MAMA BEAR: Atty. Gen.
Frankie Sue Del Papa has thus far failed at putting a kinder,
gentler face on a public career which has devolved into a permanent
adversary relationship with her constituents. Del Papa, who set
her sights on the governorship at about age six in Tonopah, has
failed to prosecute blatant violations of labor law, according
to many union representatives. Rather than make amends, she has
simply dared her longtime supporters to find someone else to
vote for. Which brings me to Dr. Lonnie Hammargren.
BABY BEAR: Lt. Gov.
Lonnie crashed the party. Not invited to speak, he just showed
up and got some microphone time anyway. He made pretty much the
same promises as Guinn and Del Papa: vote for me and I'll set
you free. But the Republican maverick may be the only place left
for Nevada workers to go.
and buttoned-down GOP secretary of state Dean Heller was not
even mentioned at the convention. That million-dollar Guinn war
chest may have sent his prettiness to bed with no porridge for
This flaky fairy tale leaves
workers hungry for a dark horse to ride toward the governorship
here in the state where workers have no rights under the law.
HEALTH AND JUSTICE BULLETIN:
The Reno Hilton goes on trial at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, September
23, for illegally firing its security guards. Ironically, it
will take place at the National Center for Judicial Education,
University of Nevada-Reno, Midby Byron Building, 1041 N. Virginia
Street, Rooms 107 and 109. It is open to the public.
Should the trial continue
to Friday, Sept. 26, it will move to the Washoe County District
Health Department in Reno at 1001 E. 9th Street at Wells Ave.,
Building "B", North Auditorium. The Washoe County Health
Dept. is a place well-known to Hilton Hotels Corp. In May of
1996, more than 1,000 people were sickened with bacterial infections
at the hotel, necessitating an investigation by the federal Centers
for Disease Control.
Only this column and KRNV
TV-4 reported the CDC's real findings laying the blame on Reno
Hilton Pres. Ferenç Szony's sickening sick leave policy.
On May 1, 1996, Szony implemented a new, inflexible program.
Workers were given a total of seven sick days for the entire
year. Exceeding that number brought automatic termination. Most
hotel workers could not afford to buy crystal balls to foretell
exactly when or how long they'd be sick, so they started to report
for work while quite ill.
The CDC said that workers
who should have stayed home needed frequent trips to the restroom.
All germs were not extinguished during those breaks. Guests and
workers alike were thus infected via "fecal-oral contamination,"
another public relations coup for Reno and the world's largest
The viciously anti-worker,
anti-union Szony was fired awhile later. He remains a respected
member of the community and recent rumors say he will soon become
new CEO of the Reno Sands-Regency, where he'd fit right in. (See
the Barbwires of August 3, 10 and 31.) Should all else fail,
he might approach the Elardis for a food service management position
at the LV Frontier. They apparently share the same management
Should the Reno Hilton trial
carry over until Monday, September 29, it will continue at the
University Inn's Sierra Room at 1001 N. Virginia Street.
Be well. Raise hell.
Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 29-year
Nevadan, is editor of U-News.
Reprints of the UNR financial scandal
newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
Barbwire by Barbano
has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this
column were originally published 9/21/97.
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot