The fearless 40:
walking definitions
of heroism


Expanded from the 12-12-99
Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Update 12-7-2010
Chuck Fisher ailing

Chuck Fisher, 1944-2011

Nevada UPGWA members in the heat in front of the Reno Hilton during the 1996 Hot August Strike during the Hot August Nights rock'n'rods nostalgiafest, the region's largest special event. Left to right are Jack Stratton, Jay Vanderpool, Al Corral, and Chuck Fisher. The outdoor arena where the Beach Boys appeared can be seen in the right background. Although they are members of three unions, the Beach Boys crossed the picket line and performed.

True heroes and heroines emerge when ordinary men and women rise above themselves to do something extraordinary. The greater the self-sacrifice, the greater the heroism.

The wishy-washy rarely rise to such heights because they are unwilling to risk the high cost. The greatest are those who have shown the wherewithal to pay the price of heroism. This truly rich few spread the wealth by becoming walking textbooks on how to live.

I have been enriched because I know 40 such people. Their numbers have recently dwindled as they lost one of their rare breed to cancer.

The fearless 40 took on the biggest, baddest casino company in the world and won at the polls, on the streets and in the courts. They took a casino strike to the sidewalks of Reno and scored a victory, something which had not happened here in a generation or more.

By so doing, they serve as a shining example to all who get stepped on by the boss every day. They demonstrate that there is a way to prevail against the odds. It's called solidarity. True friendship. Taking a stand and staying there, regardless of the cost.

BADGE OF SERVICE -- "Hot August Strike" stick-on lapel patches are today collector's items in the Nevada Labor hall of fame.

The Reno Hilton security staff, about five dozen people, succeeded where the much larger carpenters and culinary unions had not. They won an election to form a union, went on strike when Hilton stonewalled on a contract, won the strike and a contract. Now, they've won in the second highest court in the nation.

Regular readers may remember the 1996 Hot August Strike during the Hot August Nights rock'n'rods nostalgiafest, the region's largest special event. The little union that could, United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 1010, made history, becoming the first security staff to win a union contract with a Nevada hotel-casino. None have done so since, not even in supposedly union-friendlier Gomorrah South.

In January of 1997, four months after signing the groundbreaking contract, Hilton fired its entire security force, even those the company promised it would retain if they opposed unionization. Never trust a casino boss.

In June of 1998, federal judge Gerald A. Wacknov revealed the smoking gun. On three occasions, Hilton had reviewed the pros and cons of firing its security staff and hiring a temp service. On the first two occasions, Hilton opted to keep its experienced personnel. The third time, the company fired everybody. The judge found that that only difference was that the guards had unionized. Firing workers for forming a union has been illegal since the Great Depression.

Judge Wacknov ordered Hilton to reinstate the workers within 14 days, pay them for loss of wages and benefits since termination, cancel its subcontractor agreement and prominently post a notice that it will not interfere with the union.

The cheapest thing to do would have been to deal with the little union and move on. Hilton chose a long, expensive legal battle which very probably ended on Dec. 3 in Washington, DC. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Judge Wacknov's decision. There is no Constitutional issue involved which would make the case appealable to the U.S. Supreme Court. [UPDATE — Hilton was ordered to pay more than $3 million in back wages and benefits.]

Read More About It:

Use the search engine to call up the large archive of stories on the security guards' fight for justice. Please sweep for these words with no punctuation between them: Reno Hilton security guard

The full U.S. Court of Appeals decision may be viewed at Circuit/dc/opinions/98-1484a.html

The victory comes too late for Tom Stubblefield, who recently died of cancer at about age 40. He was the sole support of his family. I hope Hilton will finally do the right thing, obey the law and send the first check to his widow.

Most of the union members want their old jobs back, complete with union representation. Having largely been illegally blackballed by casinos in Sparks and Reno, some have not worked a day in three years. Several have lost homes and marriages. One suffered a series of strokes.

The remaining 40 not only serve as inspiration, their court victory comes at an opportune time.

Culinary Union negotiations to represent non-gaming workers at both Hilton Reno properties have reportedly stalled. Protest actions are rumored. At a general meeting in Sparks last Wednesday, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council passed a strong resolution that Hilton obey the courts.

Maltreatment of its security guards, some of whom had worked at the hotel since 1978, contradicts Hilton attempts to create a good-guy public image. As the Daily Sparks Tribune reported on the front page last Friday, the Reno Hilton made last night's performance of its "Night Beat" show a benefit for Bill Pearce Courtesy Honda mechanic Richard Clay. His insurance won't pay for life-saving cancer treatment.

But Clay's health plan is self-funded by his employer, according to Tribune reporter Willie Albright's story. Management lays the blame at the feet of an independent, third-party administrator. That's merely the company employing a hatchetman to do the dirty work.

Over the past few years, several dealers on Reno's Kietzke Lane automobile row have crushed a series of attempts by their mechanics to unionize. Had such employers been impelled to provide better benefits, perhaps Clay would now be covered by real insurance. Instead, he's seeing lawyers when he should spend time with doctors. He still turns a wrench every day while serving what may turn into a death sentence.

There is no reason for Richard Clay to suffer the same fate as Tom Stubblefield.

Donations for Clay may be made by calling (800) 489-3863. His website is

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© 1982-2003, 2010 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune since 1988.

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