Sparks labor leader dead of heart attack

By Peter Schelden
February 22, 2005

Popular labor leader and activist Tom "Stoney" Stoneburner died Monday at 12:34 p.m. of a massive heart attack at Washoe Medical Center. He was 60 years old.

Stoneburner is survived by his wife, Kathy.


Fight continues in Stoneburner's memory
2-23-2005 Sparks Tribune


Stoneburner led several labor disputes in northern Nevada since 1994. In that year Stoneburner, a Reno Circus Circus Hotel-Casino security guard, formed Nevada's first casino security personnel union within his casino.

The labor leader then became president of the United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 1010. As president, Stoneburner led the workers to strike against the Reno Hilton for contracts more favorable to workers.

The union, now renamed the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, still represents the Reno Hilton guards.

Stoneburner is remembered as an impassioned fighter for workers' rights. At the time of his death, Stoneburner had been advocating for unpaid construction workers. During a recent interview with the Sparks Tribune, Stoneburner said he was "furious" with the lack of worker protection in northern Nevada.

"We need to face up to the fact that employees in this city need some protection," he said. "Employees have become disposable."

Fellow labor activist Andrew Barbano said Stoneburner "worked tirelessly" for Nevada laborers, and said the activist was possibly too personally invested in the labor struggle.

"He was personally and emotionally invested in winning justice for the homeless construction workers who remain owed about $96,000 in back wages," Barbano said. "Perhaps this fight was one too many for someone who had worked around the clock for so many years."

Stoneburner was concerned about the threat of globalization. He saw multinational agreements between countries and corporations as potential threats to workers rights.

Stoneburner made a proposal to the Nevada State Legislature in 2002 calling for corporations and their executives to be held criminally responsible for worker deaths. Under the proposal, the corporate leaders would be held for such crimes as negligent homicide, manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

Stoneburner founded the Alliance for Workers' Rights, an organization that gives legal advice to workers.

A quote from Frederick Douglas was included on the back of each of his business cards: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are (the ones) who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters ... Power concedes nothing without a demand...The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

Fight continues in Stoneburner's memory

By Angela Potter
Tribune staff
February 23, 2005

"He was one of us. I will never forget him. I never will, never."
— Francisco Echeverria

Kathy Stoneburner, widow of deceased labor activist Tom Stoneburner, is determined to continue her husband's fight for workers' rights.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Kathy Stoneburner appeared somber but determined as she said she would keep her husband's nonprofit organization, the Alliance for Workers' Rights, open.

"We don't know who is going to be the director of the Alliance," she said. "Well decide that soon."

Kathy will also continue her husband's fight to recover wages for approximately thirty construction workers who were brought to Reno to help build housing and then did not receive paychecks for two months.

"I just wanted to let the gentlemen at the construction site know that I am not giving up," she said. "We will continue this fight until you get your wages. We're going to continue the fight for Tom."

Kathy said she also has plans to introduce a bill to the state legislature to prevent this situation from happening again, either through an emergency bill this session or through a bill she writes for the next session.

She is also looking into getting grant money to create a thrift store where, after wages and expenses, the money would stay in the community.

Tom Stoneburner died Monday at 12:34 p.m. of a heart attack at Washoe Medical Center. Francisco Echeverria, who worked on the construction site, said he will never forget Stoneburner's commitment to their cause.

"We're all really sorry," he said. "We really feel this loss. He was one of us. I will never forget him. I never will, never."

Tuesday's press conference was held at the Salvation Army, where some of the men are still going for room and board. One anonymous donor gave $2,000 to help the workers get back on their feet.

The group has grown smaller, as many of the workers were forced to return to their families and find work elsewhere. But Echeverria said he would not leave until the workers received their wages.

"We don't want to leave it like this," he said. "If we leave, it could happen again."

Of the six workers at the event, Echeverria was the only one who had found work. Kathy said she considered them part of the community.

"We can't let these contractors and subcontractors come into our community and rob our workers," she said. "Once you're here, you belong to this community. I don't care how long you're here."

An appeal has been filed with Nevada Labor Commissioner. Charlie Nahorniak with the Carpenters/Contractors Cooperation Committee said it could take up to two years for the issue to be resolved, but urged the workers and the community to continue fighting.

"We've lost a key figure in the whole thing," he said, "but we want to let the community know we're not giving up."

There will be a memorial for Stoneburner at 6 p.m. Monday followed by a potluck supper at First United Methodist Church at First and West streets in Reno.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be sent to the Salvation Army or the Alliance for Workers Rights at 1 Booth Street in Reno, 89509, telephone 333-0201.

Back to Tom Stoneburner Memorial Page


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