Hot August Strike 2002 — Living on the wages of sin

Expanded from the 8-25-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Who's really to blame for the current disruption of the Reno-Sparks bus system? Start with the gambling industry, the lowest-taxed in the world, which makes the rich wages of sin but pays so poorly that many of its workers can't afford cars.

More on the ongoing Teamsters
jobs with justice campaign

Strong candidates have certainly emerged from four of the five elected members of the Regional Transportation Commission. While Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi has advocated for the workers, Reno City Councilman Dave Rigdon and RTC Chairman Jim Shaw, who represents Sparks on the Washoe County Commission, have expressed hostility.

Sparks Councilman John Mayer and County Commissioner Ted Short have played Pontius Pilate, washing their hands at the crucifixion.

Mayer's stance is the most surprising. The retired school principal comes from a longtime Sparks family of rail union workers. John was the only Sparks City Council supporter of a project labor agreement for construction of the tax-subsidized Syufy downtown theater in 1997.

Such an agreement would have guaranteed the hiring of local people and that those workers were properly paid with area- standard wages. Instead, many were shortchanged. By the time union complaints about out-of-state contractors were verified by the state labor commissioner, all were long gone. Syufy made a nice profit .

Councilman Mayer stopped returning my phone calls more than three years ago during the previous bus near-strike.

On June 18, 1999, he told me he hoped the workers would strike, that it "would be a good thing to shake 'em up."

He was talking more of his fellow RTC commissioners than transit managers.

Mayer, the senior RTC member, said he's long been critical of hiring freelance managers and would like to see the practice eliminated. British-owned Transit Management of Washoe's $27,019 per month contract is up for renewal next year. For that princely sum, the outfit provides three — count 'em — three execs to screw over workers and passengers alike.

"I'm one of the few who think we should go public and forget the public-private partnership," Mayer told me.

"This is the third one (labor contract) I've been on this board with. I thought the union settled for less than I thought they should have each time. They gave up on work rules too easily," Mayer said.

His sentiments were echoed at Friday's RTC meeting. Driver Louise Pena decried having no more than a two percent annual pay raise for 12 years. (Adjusted for inflation, she's working for 1989 wages.)

Independent managers enforce an adversary, take-it-or-leave-it relationship with workers. TMW's attorneys are from the infamous nationwide firm of Littler Mendelson, the biggest, meanest union-busting firm in the nation. They get about $500 to $1,200 an hour to destroy the lives of the small and weak. And they get paid with your tax money to do so.

Former Sparks Mayor Ron Player, whose wife drives for Citifare, reminded commissioners last Friday that outside management was approved while he was on the board. He noted that increasing the degrees of separation between the board and the workers was sold as something positive, but has proven wrong and should be stopped.

"The board is given very little information," Mayer said in 1999, "no operating information, just items such as accidents and ridership."

Indeed, I asked for a copy of the transit system report scheduled for presentation at Friday's meeting. RTC PR person Nancy Pearl wisely advised me not to bother. The report was for June!

"I ride the bus a lot," Mayer said in 1999. "There are a lot of those drivers who bleed Citifare if they get cut. They could get more money elsewhere, but love the company. They're (management) taking advantage of them (drivers)," Mayer said.

He noted how shop steward George Thrower received a special commendation a few years ago for stopping his bus to intervene in an armed robbery in progress.

Nothing matters to transit manager Mike Steele other than proving he's got the biggest ego and hustling for a bonus.

CORRECTION. Both the Sparks Police Dept. and Washoe Medical Center gave me erroneous information at deadline last week. The hit-and-run accident between a bicyclist and a Citifare replacement driver did indeed occur on Aug. 17. However, the cyclist was treated and released by Washoe Med and was never admitted to intensive care. At least Washoe Med's PR people apologized for the error. The nursing staff, always undermanned, had more than a dozen trauma deaths over that weekend. I can forgive them, but Sparks PD treated me like the local agent of Osama bin Laden.

SMOKING GUNS. If any more proof is needed that TMW is trying to bust the union, look no further than a five-year budget projection presented by RTC honcho David Jickling to the system's citizens advisory committee last Wednesday. Jickling predicts that employee wages and benefits (including health insurance) will raise only two percent per year through 2007. The only way to accomplish that will be by moving toward a staff comprised totally of minimum wage, uninsured part-timers.

An RTC receptionist or courier already makes more than the highest paid driver. That's the equivalent of the guy that washes the airliner making more than the pilot.

Jickling's the guy who drivers say called them "a dime a dozen." Now he's making his insult come true.

MORE COP AND BUS PROBLEMS. Internet readers by now know that Progressive Leadership Alliance director Bob Fulkerson was harrassed by Citifare security and Reno PD at the Citicenter switching station. Fulkerson was alternately registering voters and marching with locked-out drivers.

The rent-a-thugs told him to stop his activities or they'd call the cops. He told them to go ahead. RPD officers, while settling down Citifare's headbreakers, challenged Fulkerson with "Stop or we'll clip you."

Fulkerson had no idea that "clip" means "empty my bullet clip in your sorry ass." (Bob really needs to watch more TV cop shows.)

Both the ACLU and Reno-Sparks NAACP responded to my e-bulletin and proceeded to educate Bob on street talk.

Upon learning of the incident, Deputy Chief Jim Weston had an internal affairs investigator call me. I hope Fulkerson follows through. Stay tuned.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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