Regional Transportation Commission bus drivers and other union employees in Washoe County have been battling with their employer—Keolis North America—throughout the pandemic. The latest is a dispute over healthcare benefits.
The multinational company is the contractor that runs RTC buses.
Last month, the Teamsters Local 533, the union representing RTC bus drivers and other workers, claimed Keolis locked out one of their members from a room she needed to pump breast milk for her baby.
The union filed a lawsuit against the company for allegedly violating federal law, a spokesperson said.
The union fought with Keolis last year over allegedly inadequate precautions to deal with COVID-19. They claimed the company was not enforcing mask mandates for all riders and telling drivers they could not demand riders don masks before boarding. Union members got sick with the coronavirus disease as a result, the union alleged.
Litigation and negotiations have been fraught with allegations from both the company and union.
A National Labor Relations Board judge was supposed to review another issue—Keolis’s alleged refusal to disclose how many union members contracted COVID-19 in June— according to union spokesperson Andrew Barbano.
That has now been moved to August after being “consolidated with other filings,” Barbano said. The trial is set for Aug. 17.
In another legal action, the Trustees of the security fund that’s maintained to cover health and welfare benefits for the union workers is suing Keolis in federal court allegedly for not making required payments to the fund.
The suit, filed in February, alleges that during a period from July to December 2019 Keolis failed to pay more than $50,000 into the fund. The plaintiffs are seeking $56,469.65 in unpaid contributions and damages, as well as attorney fees.
“The underlying problem is Keolis Transit, when they hire new employees, they’re not sending over the new hires’ information to the health and welfare trust,” said union President Gary Watson. “I think they just have a lack of management oversight, and that’s been the story here since they’ve been here.”
Watson said Keolis is not good for the community.
“Based on their conduct, they have been implementing a classic pattern of union busting.”
“The RTC should really vet the contractors they bring in here that want to lower the grade of employees that we have in our community that live and breathe and pay taxes here, including paying taxes to the RTC for fuel and everything else they use in this community,” he said.
Keolis Spokesperson Jenny Fahlbush said, “As a policy, we do not comment on active court cases and thus we are unable to provide further detail. This case is related to Keolis taking over responsibilities for these employees from the prior contractor in 2019. While Keolis remains committed to a productive relationship with all of our Union partners, we are contesting the Union’s claims in this matter.”
Keolis in 2019 was awarded a contract of up to 10 years to operate the RTC routes, which serve an estimated 20,000 riders per day.
Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus told This Is Reno last month that she’d like to see RTC’s contract with Keolis terminated.
The union’s bargaining agreement expires on June 30.
Barbano said early negotiations between Keolis and the union have not been fruitful.
“Based on their conduct, they have been implementing a classic pattern of union busting,” he said, adding that Watson told him “Keolis started a week of contract negotiation in late May, the first day of which was fruitless. A red flag pattern of ‘surface bargaining’ immediately emerged.”
RTC officials declined to comment on this story.
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.