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Teamsters sue bus contractor over passengers not wearing masks

By Bob Conrad
An RTC bus rider not wearing a mask. Image provided by Gary Watson of Teamsters Local 533. Watson said the photo was taken today, June 30, 2020.

The Teamsters Union last week filed for injunctive relief and arbitration to compel the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission’s bus system, operated by Keolis North America  to enforce Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mask mandate on public transit.

“This is an extreme measure because this is an extreme emergency and no one has responded all year,” said Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson.

The suit is the latest in the union’s battle with Keolis. It comes after a bus driver got COVID-19 in July. The union’s position is riders should be forced to wear masks during the pandemic.

“Our patience evaporated when we learned that a passenger was refused boarding because his pants were down but maskless passengers were allowed on the bus,” Watson added.

Keolis’ representative, Abul Hassan, said he had not seen the lawsuit, but the safety and wellbeing of employees and the riding public is a primary focus.  

“We continue to focus on ensuring vehicles and facilities are cleaned and disinfected while following all CDC, Washoe County Health District, and 024 specific guidelines,” he said. 

The 024 emergency directive by Sisolak, issued June 24, exempts people experiencing homelessness, and those with a medical condition or disability, from having to wear masks. 

“Such individuals are encouraged to take protective measures to the greatest extent practicable,” Sisolak’s directive maintains.

But that’s not safe enough for area bus drivers, the Teamsters said.

“An epidemic of barefaced passengers rides every day, some on dangerously overcrowded buses. One rider even spit at a driver. Bus system management has tried to have it both ways, posting signs that masks are ineffective and others stating masks are mandatory, all the while threatening drivers with firing if they try to enforce the governor’s legal order,” Watson said. 

The Teamsters want Keolis to enforce what it is calling basic safety.

“The federal lawsuit states that the transit system’s foreign-owned management corporation is contractually and legally bound to enforce basic safety practices,” Watson said.  “Instead, the overseas for-profit jobber has perverted the Americans With Disabilities Act in order to proceed under the fictitious and feckless assumption that everyone without a mask is somehow disabled and can’t wear one.”

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno



Jake Alister September 15, 2020 - 11:35 am

Im a driver and they got masks on every bus for riders. I wanna thank Keolis for fighting to keep our jobs. This unions just crazy expecting us operators to frisk riders and tell old ladies they gotta bounce or die of suffocation cuz they aint ridin without no mask!

Geoffrey Brooks September 15, 2020 - 8:33 am

We obviously need to place some teeth into R&R designed to protect everyone, such as mask wearing and social distancing. I am not sure what proof the Union have that the driver caught COVID19 from a passenger… However, as around 20% of the cases appear to be asymptomatic, assuming apparently healthy folks are safe to be with is risky… and if EVERYONE complies … the SARS-COV2 virus will go away due to lack of “infectious folks” in the community.

This is just pandemic 101 control. It worked in China, in S. Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan… Enforcement of the rules, contact tracing and social isolation for the infected. It worked in 1919 when the H1N1 flu killed over 20,000,000 folks worldwide, once it was realized that the virus was transmitted through the air.

Living in the most advanced country in the world, one can only wonder why we are in such a mess with nearly 200,000 folks dead in less than a year.

Back to the busses (and Uber Lyft Taxis) – everyone should be masked. Each vehicle should carry masks for those who have forgotten them. Refusal to use, means you will not get on the bus.

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