on 16: Nevada workers have the right to lose
the 7-11-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.)
This is a test and I bet you'll get the answers wrong.
QUESTION ONE: According to the Reno Police Department, who
A. Casino executives
B. Casino workers
C. City employees
Nevada is a "right to work" state, which would
seem to mean that you have the right to work for the employer of your
choice. That's one of several myths slated for execution by the end of
For those new to this plantation, no one can work in a Nevada
casino without what is known as a "police card" or "work
card." You must have your papers here in the High Desert Outback
of the American Dream.
Workers, particularly of the casino variety, rate as third
class citizens or worse. It goes back to the old days when Reno casino
owners wore guns to work and operated on the assumption that everyone,
including employees and family members, would steal if given half a chance.
MUSKETEERS Among the demonstrators at the April,
1995, downtown Reno labor march on the Flamingo Hilton
were (left to right) news/talk radio legend Travus
T. Hipp (a veteran member of the Industrial Workers of
the World, the venerable IWW Wobblies); CWA
Local 9413 member Andrew
Barbano and hard-charging labor lawyer Timothy
Sears. Sears acted as attorney for Ha
Jenny Ngo against the behemoth Hilton Hotel Corp.,
the world's largest gambling company, now known as Park Place
Entertainment. Park Place has acquired both Bally's and Caesar's
Palace casino properties.(NevadaLabor.com
A few days ago, my old friend Tom
"Stony" Stoneburner, a longtime casino security guard,
journeyed to the Reno Police Department to renew his work card.
As Stony waited, "a man entered the lobby, spoke to
a lady at the reception desk, entered the closed police card print room,
and exited a few minutes later. This happened twice as the group of approximately
10 applicants sat outside," he wrote in a July 6 letter to
Reno Police Chief Jerry Hoover.
"The group outside angrily remarked about this obvious
display of privilege," Stoneburner wrote. He asked the woman in charge
who these people were.
"City employees," came the response.
"I was first in line," Stoneburner wrote the chief.
"While I was signing in on the sign-in sheet, I noticed
that two people had already signed in...I asked the clerk how two people
had already been processed. The clerk said they were 'city employees.'
I read the entries and saw that they were in fact executives in the gaming
industry," Stoneburner continued.
"When I pointed this out, the clerk said 'they had
appointments.' I asked if I could get an appointment. The now very curt
clerk said 'you're holding up the line.'"
After the standard mug-and-fingerprint indignities of being
treated as a criminal in order to keep his job, Stoneburner asked to see
a supervisor. The woman explained that in addition to casino execs, both
city workers and ex-felons are also given appointments.
So the answer to Question One is "B."
Stoneburner is treasurer of the Progressive Leadership Alliance
of Nevada and director of the Alliance for Workers' Rights. He'll pass
along the chief's response, if any.
QUESTION TWO: The state may not deprive
A. Your right to work
B. Your right to keep and bear arms
C. Your civil rights
D. Your protection against wrongful termination
E. None of the above
While you might labor under the myth that you have these
rights under the law, in practice, you don't.
GUNS AND BUTTER. Firearms are always a hot topic, but this
column is about bread and butter. The gambling-industrial complex has
made sure Nevada breadwinners have no rights under the law.
With respect to civil rights, abandon hope all ye who enter
here. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled it okay to fire Las Vegas apartment
managers who protested their employer's overt racism in not renting to
blacks. (Bigelow v. Bullard, 901 P.2d 630, 1995)
When the Las Vegas Hilton fired more than three dozen casino
dealers and replaced them with young, comely wenches, those terminated
sued and won a large judgment. The gambling industry went to the legislature
and got punitive damages barred in wrongful termination lawsuits. Those
dealers today would find suing not worth the trouble, as a Reno Hilton
cocktail waitress recently learned.
Ha Jenny Ngo was fired for
the sin of going into labor (not as in union, but as in baby) while on
shift. The day she returned from the hospital after a very difficult childbirth,
her supervisor asked her to come on down. He didn't tell her it was to
receive a pink slip retroactive to the day she entered the hospital, voiding
her health insurance.
A jury ruled Hilton guilty of sex and race discrimination
but the judge would not allow punitive damages. A federal appellate court
agreed. Federal courts usually look to state law and in Nevada, punitive
damages have been prohibited by our citizen legislature. She got a puny
$9,000 in back pay and medical costs and a generous $3,000 for emotional
In April of 1998, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
upheld that ban on punitive damages, stating that imposing such sanctions
requires "conduct more egregious than intentional discrimination."
In its 3-0 ruling, the learned judges added that proof of
an "evil motive or a conscious and deliberate disregard" for
the victim's civil rights is necessary.
Long-suffering labor lawyer Timothy
Sears said he was surprised by the ruling.
"Isn't intentionally discriminating against people
based on their skin color outrageous? What more can the court demand?
We certainly admit that no one burned a cross on Jenny's lawn, but is
that what someone has to do? This means an employer can systematically
engage in race and sex discrimination and will never face punishment."
(Associated Press/Reno Gazette-Journal, 4-10-98)
The Nevada Supreme Court legalized age discrimination a
decade ago. (Sands Regent v. Valgardson, 105 Nev. 436, 777 Pac. 898, July
Workers who bring wrongful termination actions have been
placed in a special category of plaintiff. Anyone else can bring a lawsuit
by filling out the forms and stating a valid cause of action. Ex-employees
alone must provide corroboration of their own sworn testimony or face
dismissal without a trial. (Yeager v. Harrah's Club, Inc., 897 P2d 1093,
The gambling industry got a blackball bill passed in 1997
to allow casinos to share personnel information with each other without
fear of a libel suit. Although industry lobbyists filled the air with
platitudes that the law would still protect people from discrimination,
it's a simple matter to invent code words with which to blacklist people.
For instance, "trouble maker" could signify union sympathizer.
Casinos have had blackball codes built into their hiring
practices for decades. It just took awhile to legalize some of it.
One group of casinos "categorically discriminates against
any and all applicants that had once worked for a union," one former
personnel manager told me.
"Even if the applicant was perfectly qualified for
the job, if there was union 'exposure,' that person would not even get
an interview," the executive said.
"Discovering 'exposed' applicants was actually quite
simple. During the screening process that all applicants go through, the
screener reviews the applicant's work history for the past 10 years and
red-flags employment with obvious union exposure.
"Perhaps the most simple is Circus-Circus because it
is one of the only casinos in Reno that has a union. Former employees
of Circus-Circus were probably discriminated against most often. We also
passed on most applicants that worked in Las Vegas or San Francisco because
their casinos and restaurants are predominately unionized.
"Any applicant that had once worked as a correctional
officer in a prison, a police officer, a teacher, a federal, state or
city worker, a utility worker, or in the construction industry was automatically
presumed to have been 'exposed' to unions and therefore a 'pass' - office
code for 'do not hire.'
"As a matter of fact, an unusually high wage in a short
period of time was cause enough for suspicion."
The manager described how personnel screeners would call
an applicant's former employers if they were not sure about "exposure."
Pretending to be job applicants themselves, the casino reps would inquire
about unionization and if they found any, the applicant, no matter how
well qualified, was dead.
"They were neurotic about ensuring there was no paper
trail and repeatedly commented how illegal the practice was," the
former executive said.
Overall, Nevada courts have given workers little while maintaining
the Silver State's pro-employer, fire-at-will environment. Without a personal
services or union contract, Nevada workers have no rights under state
Most people think their mythical "right to work"
protects them from wrongful termination.
Nevada is a "fire at will" state.
"Right to work" laws are designed not to help
workers but to kill unions, forcing labor organizations to spend dues
money representing non-members. After 50 years of union-busting under
the right to work law (see last week's column),
Nevada workers have less clout than cattle.
Unless you have a written contract from your bosses detailing
your rights and obligations (ask for one and see how hard they laugh)
or stand among the fortunate few to work union, you have no rights.
Unions remain the last defenders of the right to work which
most workers mistakenly believe they have.
Be well. Raise hell.
1999-2005, 2012 Andrew Barbano
Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local
9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News
and head of Casinos
Out of Politics (COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial campaign
manager for State Senator Joe Neal,
D-North Las Vegas.
Since 1988, Barbwire by Barbano has originated in
the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune, where an earlier version of this column
appeared on 7/11/99.