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Teamsters sue bus contractor over passengers not wearing masks

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
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

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