Discussion of mask wearing on Regional Transportation Commission buses came up during Wednesday’s Reno City Council meeting.
In September, the Teamsters Local 533 union, which represents RTC drivers, 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.
At the time, Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson said, “This is an extreme measure because this is an extreme emergency, and no one has responded all year.”
Council members questioned whether masks were being required on buses now.
If they’re not, “that’s a problem for me,” council member Devon Reese said.
Council member Neoma Jardon—who is the chair of the RTC board—insisted that everyone is being forced to wear masks on buses, drivers and riders included. She also said mask dispensers have been installed on all buses.
Council member Naomi Duerr said she’d heard otherwise from RTC drivers who’ve reported to her being written up or otherwise disciplined for demanding riders wear a mask.
“Everything else is at 25% capacity. Why aren’t these buses at 25% capacity, and why isn’t everybody required to wear the mask?”
Watson, corroborated this while speaking with This Is Reno Thursday.
“My drivers have told me numerous times about packed buses,” he said. “They’ve called in to get extra buses out there because there’s standing room only, and they [Keolis] respond back, ‘Fill them up. Keep picking them up.’ So, there’s no social distancing during heavy times of the day when they’re picking people up from work.”
He said Keolis is no longer sharing the numbers with him, but he believes the number of drivers who’ve contracted COVID-19 is now several dozen.
“You hear councilwoman Jardon state that basically all of them are getting this at homes or parties, blah, blah, blah—I have numerous members that will say they’ve contracted it at work,” Watson said.
The union is still pursuing its suit against Keolis, though Watson could not say much about its status.
“They’ve filed their reply to dismiss our case, and we’ve filed our opposition to that—and I haven’t heard anything since then,” he said. “So, I think we’re waiting for the federal judge to make his response, probably to see if we need to go to court or what they’re going to do.”
Keolis, Watson said, is sticking to a policy via which drivers may ask passengers only once to wear a mask and must allow them to ride without one if they refuse. He’s concerned that this policy has and will continue to allow COVID-19 positive individuals to ride without observing safety precautions.
“People ride the bus here because they don’t have vehicles to get around, and they take them to their jobs … to go grocery shopping,” he said. “Well, when they are COVID positive or they have COVID symptoms, what do you think they’re taking to go get those tests? The same people are taking the buses to go get the test too.
“I’m not saying the COVID positive people can’t take the bus. It’s just more, ‘Let’s make sure everybody is safe … and let’s have x-amount of passengers on the bus. Everything else is at 25% capacity. Why aren’t these buses at 25% capacity, and why isn’t everybody required to wear the mask?” Watson asked.
In October, Teamsters Local 533 called it a win when the National Labor Relations Board ordered Keolis to post a notice reminding union members of their rights. Keolis was forced to acknowledge it has an obligation to provide union members important health and safety information the union had requested months prior. This Is Reno sent a request for comment to Keolis but did not receive a response prior to the publication of this story. The story may be updated if we hear back from the company.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.