Complaints from the living and the dead
Updated 3-9-2008

Every so often I get loving responses from treasured readers. From time to time, I share them with other members of our happy family.

The first comes from a longtime Nevada newsperson who enjoys wide respect among journalists and readers, including me. Responding to last week's Barbwire installment, he wrote: "Bullshit, Andy. The number of union members did not drop from 35 percent to 15 percent because of right to work laws. The unions became establishment."

He's absolutely right. I obviously did not make clear that Little Labor's losses have come not only from right to work laws but also other legislation and a long list of unfavorable court decisions.

Nonetheless, as it now stands, workers in Nevada pretty much have no rights unless their jobs are covered by an individual or union contract. The mythical right to work becomes reality only if you have a signed guarantee. Otherwise, you enjoy the right to work only until the boss decides to fire you whenever he/she wants.

My old friend is also right that unions became establishment. Some endorsed Nixon who, ironically, now ranks as the last liberal American president in the eyes of many liberals and leftists such as Prof. Noam Chomsky. Shows how far to the right we've been maneuvered. Other trade unionists endorsed Ronald Reagan, the only former union president to win the White House.

Reagan immediately returned the favor by firing 13,000 striking air traffic controllers who were protesting unsafe flying conditions. The DC Republicrats just perpetrated the perpetual final insult. They changed the name of Washington National Airport to Reagan National Airport in Washington, or some such elongated besmirchment of the father of our country.

King Ronald the Vague became the biggest union buster in U.S. history. Reagan's 1981 dastardly downsizing declared open season on workers. (Read the book "Confessions of a Union Buster" by Terry Conrow and Martin J. Levitt of Las Vegas. You can order it at a discount through

Government agencies once assigned to protect worker rights were turned into obstacles of delay and destruction. Working people's salaries have never recovered from the Reagan reign of terror.

"The unions consist of fat cats today," my journalist friend's letter continued. "They got comfortable...By the 1960s, they were spending their weekends golfing with the guys from management."

That was then, this is now. Some of the old guard remains, but much has changed. New union militancy trying to recover lost ground has scared the bejabbers out of big business and resulted in that abominable Republican initiative petition now being circulated in Nevada and across the nation. (State officials are now investigating whether the GOP violated Nevada election laws with last weekend's radio campaign kickoff.)

Claiming a desire to protect workers by mandating written permission to use individual dues for politics, the GOP petition would actually impose burdensome new paperwork and bookkeeping rules on both employers and unions. Those behind the petition are not worker advocates, but union haters, some of the richest and greediest men in the country. (See Politics '98 at

Shouldn't workers give permission to have their dues used for politics? They already do. Under a decade-old federal court decision, they may order their dues witheld from all political activities and refunded. Members can also work to see that union support goes to people they favor. If not, they can abide by majority rule or resign in protest, just as they are free to do with any voluntary organization.

Like the IRS, the Republicans would require each worker to fill out paperwork every year. At every step, the GOP constitutional amendment adds as much papershuffling as clever lawyers can think up. The red tape will probably prove more expensive than the two or three dollars a month collected per worker. The petition would also require a new state bureaucracy to enforce the law. And that's the point: spend union money on more big government rather than on elections of pro-worker candidates.

The Reno Gazette-Journal last week editorially blasted the mis-named "workers rights initiative" also known as the "paycheck protection act." That was not nearly as surprising as a similar stance from the second most conservative editorial page in Nevada. (The Elko Daily Free Press retired the title long ago.)

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the state's largest newspaper, said "until state labor leaders succeed in repealing our right-to-work law, the Paycheck Protection Act amounts to an intolerable intervention into the affairs of private organizations whose members associate voluntarily."

If such a measure can micromanage unions, who's next? The Catholic or Mormon churches? Boy Scouts? Sparks Bobby Sox softball?

The petition now being hustled in front of post offices will probably be knocked out in court because it violates the First Amendment guarantee of free assembly and association, which seems the source of the Review-Journal's criticism. It's already producing low-wage jobs.

I talked to a couple of teenage girls gathering signatures last week. They are making a whopping forty cents per name! If they're lucky, they will clear less than two dollars per hour for their labor. If they are successful in amending the Nevada Constitution, they will see their chances of ever making much more than that severely diminished here in the country with the most repressive labor laws in the industrialized world.

PETITION, TOO: Members of the Teamsters Union and other activist groups will hold a press conference at Reno City Hall this Thursday, Feb. 12, at 7:00 p.m. The Teamsters have found a provision in federal law which gives local communities legal leverage over railroad safety. The groups will propose a Reno initiative petition to force Union Pacific to pay to depress its railroad tracks which cut through the hearts of our communities.

FROM DEPRESSION TO REPRESSION: A letter to Gov. Bob Miller from local hellraiser Michael A. Cook raises an embarrassing point about the governor's commission investigating the Sierra Chemical plant explosion which took four lives east of Sparks-Reno.

"Where are common workers' interests represented? I see only members of the bureaucracy, most of which have some type of involvement with the failure of our system to provide for the workers," Cook wrote.

Speaking of lack of protection, the State Industrial Insurance System (SIIS) is supposed to pay to ship the bodies of Nevada workers killed on the job. Tough luck if you're a brown person from Mexico. They don't transport across the border. An extra $125 had to be raised by Nevada Hispanic Services to bring the body of Demetrio Hernandez home to Mexico.

Too bad those workers didn't have a union to advocate for them before they died.

Be well. Raise hell.


Copyright © 1998, 2008 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 1/11/98.

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The Dean's List

   The Dean of Reno Bloggers could very well be Andrew Barbano, self-described "fighter of public demons," who started putting his "Barbwire" columns online in 1996 and now runs 10 sites.

      RENO NEWS & REVIEW, 11-9-2006

Annual César Chávez Celebration


Copyright © 1982-2008 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, editor of and; a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413/AFL-CIO, and the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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