Teamsters Local 533 — the union representing bus drivers and other transit workers — announced its members today are on strike effective immediately.
“After more than a year of unresolved unfair labor practice charges, bad faith bargaining, contract violations and refusal to arbitrate disputes, Regional Transportation Commission Washoe bus system employees and Teamsters Local 533 members have begun striking to hold RTC’s for-profit operator, Keolis Corporation, accountable for their employee mistreatment,” said Teamsters President Gary Watson. “We’ve spent over a year encouraging the contractor for RTC bus system, Keolis Corporation, to act as a fair employer and community investor, without success.”
The last straw, Watson said, was during a bargaining session last week when Keolis allegedly proposed to cut health insurance benefits for workers.
“While today’s actions by Teamsters Local 533 are disappointing, Keolis will continue to work with the employees and the RTC to provide passengers a predictable level of service, and continue to work towards agreement on a [collective bargaining agreement],” said Jenny Fahlbush, spokesperson for Keolis.
All bus routes were canceled today after the strike announcement. Washoe RTC’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment other than to say he was “gathering information” to respond.
“At the latest bargaining session last week, Keolis made a proposal to eliminate Teamsters Health insurance with 60 days’ notice,” Watson added. “We told Keolis the proposal is a poison pill and violates the Health and Welfare Trust Agreement. Keolis refuses to withdraw this language.”
A picket line is said to be forming this afternoon at the Fourth Street Station downtown.
“Drivers bear the brunt of Keolis’s failures, facing harassment and abuse from angry passengers,” Watson said. “They are not to blame for Keolis Corporation’s failures, and we will not tolerate Keolis’s do-nothing approach any longer.”
This Is Reno has been reporting on the conflict between the union and Keolis for more than a year. The collective bargaining agreement between the two expired July 1, and Watson last week filed another federal complaint against Keolis alleging unfair labor practices.
The union has been demanding RTC re-enact fines against Keolis for missed rides, and hundreds of rides have been canceled since early July, which Keolis blamed on bus drivers calling in sick.
The bus drivers posted a statement online encouraging people to contact local elected officials with the Washoe County RTC board to encourage them to take action.
“Reno should come first, not a for profit company,” they said.
RTC’s board to date has not taken action in the dispute.
This story is developing and may be updated.
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 in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.