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July 4 railroad jobs: We’re red, white and screwed
by Andrew Barbano
Jul 03, 2011 | 604 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Over the past 10 days, we were thrown onto the tracks as the twin locomotives of money and power again crushed us — railroad jobs both physical and political.

Barbwire e-list subscribers got exclusive insight on the multiple fatality Amtrak rail disaster from the driver of the train.

Washoe County Commissioners rolled over for bullet-headed D.A. Dick Gammick and imposed a system to push defendants to plea-bargain within 72 hours of arrest.

And there is such a dearth of help for the oppressed majority of workers that government agencies are referring aggrieved employees to (aargh!) me.

The bottom line: Nevadans on this Interdependence Day weekend remain royally red, white and screwed.

Red Blood and Flashing Lights

As usual, government regulators do nothing until people die in spectacular fashion with video available. The June 24 Amtrak train and semi-truck holocaust near Fallon fit the criminal profile. Six lie dead with many others injured. Lawyers circle like buzzards and, as always, the mostly likely scapegoat is somebody dead.

As noted by my union brother and friend Ron Kaminkow and fellow engineer Jack Rice of Sparks, that particular crossing has been a disaster waiting to happen for years. But who listens to disposable worker bees when corporate profits are at stake? Fingers have been pointed at the trucking company, Amtrak and the Nevada Dept. of Transportation, but the world has been strangely silent about the elephant fouling the room: Union Pacific.

Like mining companies, railroads have with impunity perpetuated unsafe conditions for well over a century. Where these two predatory dinosaurs are concerned, nothing much changes. The ancient law of the jungle will continue to consume the great unwashed.

With his permission, I posted Mr. Kaminkow’s comments at It took tremendous courage for this good man to come forward and call it like he saw it in his rearview mirror when that tractor-trailer t-boned his train. He was immediately hit from so many directions that he asked me to take down the post. For only the third time in almost two decades, I did so. There has always been only one consideration: If asked by the producer of the work, I acquiesce.

He may give me permission to re-publish in the future. In the alternative, the United Transportation Union and Railroad Workers United provided an exclusive and harrowing account of the heroism of railroad staff in getting people off that burning train. It will be linked to the expanded web edition of this column at

WHITE GUYS WILL DO BETTER. With the ACLU and NAACP in opposition, the county commission funded the DA’s railroad job. It brings back a program previously 86’d by the courts. Those soft-on-crime sluggards actually insisted that defendants get vigorous legal representation. Imagine that.

I asked some experienced lawyers about it.

“The old Early Case Resolution program was created between Gammick and the old public defender with a ‘wink, wink, nod, nod.’  It may have been financially beneficial for the county, but justice was not often served,” one attorney told me.

“Do the current PD and Alternative Public Defender know about this? This proposal will bring us back to the less expensive bad old days. Sometimes, you can’t save money to subvert justice.”

Another wrote “You are right, it will railroad defendants and eliminate a lot of hard working public lawyers. In the short run, it will cost the county more. In the long run, (Gammick’s) end run around the public defender will just affect competent counsel representation.”

Rebecca Gasca of the American Civil Liberties Union said “We believe (the program) flies in the face of the constitution. It will also disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities.”  

Which made it a cinch to pass here in Mississippi West. I could’a won bar bets on that one.

Black and Blue

Doing his part in the ongoing nationwide Republican voter-suppression campaign, Nevada Gov. El Bruté Obtusé vetoed legislation to restore the right to vote to ex-felons who have paid their debt to society. Screw civil rights, we’re talking politics here.

BLUE LAWS. A few days ago, a Latina hotel maid got fired as a result of what she asserts was ethnic discrimination. She went to a rural federal government office and asked for help. They gave her my live TV talk line number. I sent her an NAACP complaint form.

Only about one in six Nevada workers is represented by a union. The rest have nowhere to go. Like many of their predecessors, Nevada’s attorney general and labor commissioner refuse to enforce state labor law. Another abused worked called me last week and said that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had bounced her claim. I could have told her to save the postage.

As a result, I have ordered the broadcast of reruns of my TV special on the Employee Free Choice Act. See the web edition at for times and channels.

I sincerely hope you and yours find something joyful to celebrate on Monday.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, first vice-president and political action chair of the Reno-Sparks NAACP and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988. Special thanks to wise man Lewis Black for “red, white and screwed.” He oughtta know.
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