The fun part came when we inducted three union giants into the César Chávez Nevada Labor Hall of Fame and not one saw it coming.
As we moved to the presentations, I faked a microphone problem and called an electrician to the stage. Al Davis (no, not the meanest guy in pro football) from Electrical Workers Local 357 in Gomorrah South responded. Needless to say, he tried and failed.
So I asked for someone with more experience, former 28-year Assemblyman Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas. (He and his wife, former university regent Nancy Price, moved to Sparks several years ago.)
Bob is a 55-year member of the union whose proudest possession is his old lunch pail signed by The King.
Bob was wiring the showroom of the new International Hotel (now Las Vegas Hilton) in 1969 when Elvis hisself arrived to inspect the place. He sat down with the workers at lunch.
“He was just as regular a guy as you could ask for,” the new hall-of-famer recalls.
“He said when he finished his show he was going back to Tupelo, Miss., to work for Crown Electric. I went there years later. It turned out he didn’t work as an electrician, but delivered materials for them before and after he became a big star.”
How would you like to have had the king of rock ‘n’ roll dropping gear to your construction site?
President Obama’s signature now adorns Bob’s old lunchbox, alongside those of former President Carter, Hillary Clinton and the guy she married, Debbie Reynolds, Willie Nelson, Charo, Sen. Harry Reid, D- Nev., and Lisa Marie Presley.
I recounted how the gambling-industrial complex tried for years to knock Bob out of office because of his consistent introduction of legislation to level the playing field on the High Desert Plantation. Nevada workers without a personal or union contract basically have no rights. Bob wanted to change us to a just-cause termination state rather than a fire-at-will dictatorship.
I wrote a column about him in 1990 which he distributed during the Democratic primary. He survived against a heavily funded casino candidate by 31 votes.
After the shellshocked Mr. Price left the podium, I asked Wendy Jones to bring up her husband, Stan, the last labor commissioner in Nevada history. The office is supposed to protect workers, but has morphed into a protector of corporations since Stan left. He went on to become director of the Nevada Employment Security Department and is a longtime member of Sparks-based Sheet Metal Workers Local 26. I had retired business manager Dave Peel say more than a few words about Stan, who preceded him in that post. The golden-voiced Mr. Jones didn’t say much.
Then, we sprung the trap and handed another hall of fame trophy to Wendy, who worked for 50 years as office manager for Electrical Workers Local 401, where she met her future husband.
The icing on the cake: Last Friday was Stan and Wendy’s 55th wedding anniversary and they spent it at a union event.
All the hall of fame awards were presented by last year’s honoree, former Harrah’s bartender Darlene Jespersen, plaintiff in the landmark lipstick lawsuit that advanced the cause of female workers’ rights. Her case is taught in law schools nationwide.
Last year’s organizer of the year, Liz Sorenson of Sparks-based Communications Workers Local 9413, was in Sacramento (surprise) organizing workers. So I had union president Jim Burrell present the award to Dwayne Killgore of Operating Engineers Local 3, which represents Sparks city employees. OE3 business agent Steve Ingersoll related Mr. Killgore’s astonishing record of organizing success.
The Project of the Year Award went to LS Power for the Southwest Intertie, the job-creating power line through eastern Nevada. Paul McKenzie of the Sparks-based Building and Construction Trades Council made the presentation. Brian Kulpin of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, last year’s winner, passed the torch. Employer of the Year honoree was MKD Construction, locally owned by the Grock family. Local 3 Business Agent Rod Young gave their distinguished history. SaveMart Stores VP Ed Popke passed the torch on behalf of last year’s winner.
The majority of the new Nevada Legislative Latino Caucus attended: Sens. Moises Denis and Ruben Kihuen, Assemblymembers Irene Bustamante Adams, Steven Brooks and Lucy Flores, all D-Las Vegas, and Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, rallied the crowd, as did Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Sparks. Assemblymen David Ohrenschall and Richard “Tick” Segerblom, both D-Las Vegas, also broke bread with us.
Many of those heavy hitters will address the multitude expected at Western Nevada College at 4:30 p.m. Monday, part of the national unity rally on the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was shot while supporting striking union garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn.
Rev. Larry Holloway of Bethel AME Church in Sparks is also on the agenda of the protest against erosion of workers’ rights and destruction of our educational system. To register, go to www.we-r-1.org/april4.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, chair of the Nevada César Chávez Committee, member of CWA Local 9413/AFL-CIO, first vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.