More than 160 trips on RTC buses were canceled today because of bus drivers allegedly calling in sick. The cancelations followed a weekend during which 10% of bus drivers called in sick, impacting nearly 100 rides.
Mike Ake with Keolis Transit North America, Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission’s bus contractor, said the routes most impacted were the Virginia and Lincoln lines, traveling from downtown Reno to Meadowood Mall and downtown Reno to Sparks.
“Overall on the weekend, we operate 875 trips a day, and we missed 98,” Ake said.
Ake said the sick call-ins are a “very high number. We [normally] have a couple of drivers call off sick every day.”
He hinted the call-ins could be considered a “blue flu,” a strike action taken by police officers, or in this case drivers doing an informal strike.
“Ironically, our union president was at the Fourth Street station Friday with a well-known heatwave coming through the area, and suddenly our number of drivers called in sick went way up over the weekend … jeopardizing service levels,” Ake said.
That union president, however, blamed Keolis and RTC for the driver shortages.
“Keolis has no incentive to hire, they are short roughly 35 drivers,” Gary Watson of Teamsters Union No. 533 said.
A bus driver contacted This Is Reno and said, “The buses aren’t running because Keolis and RTC aren’t fixing them to run [safely]. Keolis has chopped up the routes so small that there aren’t enough drivers for all the routes. We are trying to get Reno back on track and these [two] companies [Keolis and Washoe RTC] are fighting us every inch.”
Ake disputed this and said most transit organizations operate with 1% of their fleets inoperable because of mechanical issues or accidents. He also said Keolis has hired about two dozen new drivers this year but is struggling finding new drivers in Reno’s job market, which is seeing a glut of job vacancies.
Ake previously told This Is Reno the company has contingency plans should the union approve a strike, but he admitted today Keolis did not have enough drivers to cover all missed trips in the past four days.
The union voted in early July to strike after a collective bargaining agreement was not reached between the union and Keolis. Watson told This Is Reno over the weekend a strike is not planned at this time. Ake said a meeting has been scheduled with the union.
The long running dispute between Keolis and the union continues to intensify — now with riders being impacted.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time research appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.