from the living and the dead
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
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 http://www.nevadalabor.com).
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
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.
1998, 2008 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
vu all over again: Paycheck Deception is back!
And we thought we put the stake through this vampire's
heart 10 years ago
the executive secretary-treasurer 3-5-2008