Keolis Transit North America this week accused its transit workers of soft strike by calling in sick. Those call-ins, according to Keolis, resulted in more than 600 rides canceled for Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) bus service since Friday.
Nearly 200 rides were canceled Friday and more than 100 were canceled Wednesday. The bus system runs nearly 3,000 rides on weekdays and about 2,000 each Saturdays and Sundays.
The transit workers union, Teamsters Local 533, said the canceled rides are squarely the fault of Keolis. Keolis officials said the union is sending inflammatory and false information to the news media.
A handful of Keolis employees said the company is the worst bus contractor RTC has had in Washoe County. They blame the company for the situation.
Keolis representative Mike Ake previously said the company has plans if the workers’ union votes for a strike. But rides continue to be canceled by the dozens as the region experiences an unprecedented heatwave.
“Cut corners, cut service, don’t pay overtime. Colloquially, it’s called cutting a fat hog in the butt.”
“There are routes that do not have a permanent driver, Keolis will not cover those because currently the RTC is not imposing the fine of $1,000 per missed trip so the company has nothing to compel them to fill the route,” a Keolis employee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Every other transit agency is aware that drivers get sick. They have extra board drivers to cover these routes. Keolis refuses to pay for drivers to be on standby and therefore when a driver is sick there is nobody to cover.”
Some have criticized RTC for posting on its website notices of cancelations after the rides have already been canceled.
RTC spokesperson Mike Moreno said it was Keolis’ responsibility to update the website.
“Keolis is updating the website alerts as quickly as they learn of the call offs by drivers,” he said. “Keolis is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers, similar to situations around the region and across the country. They are hiring and training prospective drivers as they become available.”
Although threats of a strike have been looming for months, RTC was also criticized for describing the cancelations as being due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
“Unforeseen circumstances accurately describes the situation as Keolis is not aware of when drivers may call off,” Moreno said. “Keolis begins their service day with a full complement of scheduled drivers. As call offs are received, modification to the schedule is made to identify missed trips for a route and the Alerts page updated at rtcwashoe.com.”
Union leaders want the RTC board to step in and enforce penalties for missed rides, something Moreno said is not an option now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With no penalties to run an efficient system, a compliant political environment and now, a friendly press [in reference to other news reporting], Keolis has an open field to continue business as usual,” said union spokesperson Andrew Barbano. “Cut corners, cut service, don’t pay overtime. Colloquially, it’s called cutting a fat hog in the butt.”
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.