By Jeri Chadwell and Bob Conrad
Bus workers continue their strike against Keolis North America and the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission. Strikers and their supporters were protesting downtown this morning.
Now in its third day, the strike has brought most RTC buses to a halt. Only three routes are being serviced, and those routes are seeing severely reduced rides.
Five bus drivers came to work out of a stable of about 150 employed by Keolis. Nearly 200 employees are on strike.
“We’ve got five drivers that crossed the picket line,” said Keolis’ Mike Ake. “We’ve also got two supervisors that are rotating.”
Ake said there are no plans to hire outside firms or drivers to cover the ride losses. Only RTC’s main lines are being serviced.
“We are operating two of the regular routes, the Virginia line and route 11, as well as a couple of trips to Carson,” he said. “Our plan is to increase the frequency on those three routes until we have enough drivers to start adding additional routes.”
Picket line formed at downtown bus station
Chris Fuqua, vice president of Teamsters Local 533, stood at the corner of Lake and Fourth streets holding a picket sign with the words “on strike” written in bold red lettering. Surrounding him were dozens of people with identical signs.
Fuqua criticized RTC’s contingency plan of using FlexRIDE—operated through MTM Paratransit—to get riders around town.
“We now have ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] clients, passengers, that are running two to four hours late to their medical appointments,” he said. “So, instead of doing their job, MTM Paratransit is now doing the job of Keolis—picking up everyday passengers. They’re now neglecting doing their own job of picking up the ADA, and there’s more routes that they are being focused on.”
RTC is offering its FlexRIDE service since most routes are canceled.
“However, this service is limited on vehicles and staff to operate the vehicles,” the RTC website noted. Therefore, “the RTC must limit access to this service to essential trips only (e.g. medical, dental, vision, job/employment related trips – Lifeline trips).”
Scheduling a FlexRIDE by using the RTC Washoe FlexRIDE app on a smartphone or or by calling a dispatcher at 775-335-0035.
“Please allow for increased wait times for pick-up and longer than normal drop-off times,” the RTC website reads.
RTC’s announcement about contingency plans does explicitly state that only “essential rides” are being offered this way.
Health care, willingness to negotiate still in dispute
Fuqua also repeated the union’s allegation that Keolis is attempting to take away workers’ health benefits through its long established private trust—the Northern California General Teamsters Security Fund. The union filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging Keolis has failed to pay more than $50,000 into the employees’ health care fund.
Ake disputed the statement by the union that a proposed change to the collective bargaining agreement would result in a reduction in employee benefits.
“Unfortunately, the union still refuses to agree to a date to sit down,” he said. “We’ve sent at least two more communications since the start of the strike. Unfortunately, they haven’t responded to either one.”
Union President Gary Watson was also present on the picket line today, and he reiterated the allegations that Keolis is seeking to eliminate the health care trust.
“They want to eliminate our health care benefits with 60 days’ notice,” he said. “They want the union to perform functions that are internally company functions to perform, like signing up new-hire employees and doing all that process of onboarding their new employees.”
“All these contractors want to do is suck the money out of the community off the workers’ backs.”
Watson said the first proposal Keolis sent mentioned Health Plan of Nevada for employees. Looking at Keolis’ proposals linked to on the union’s website, Health Plan of Nevada is mentioned, but only for employees on personal leave.
It states, “The employee requesting a personal leave may elect to continue Health and Welfare coverage by making arrangements for COBRA through the Health Plan of Nevada
Northern California General Teamsters Security Fund (Trust). The employee must remit their portion in a timely manner to maintain coverage. The Company will resume payment of its portion of the benefits cost when the employee returns to active employment.”
As to eliminating the Teamsters’ current health benefits program with 60 days’ notice, Keolis proposed that it would be able to do so if the union or its third-party designees are in violation of contract:
“If the Union and/or any Union third-party designee is non-compliant with the administration of the plan as defined above, the Company will provide a sixty (60) day notice to the Union to correct any deficiencies. If after the sixty (60) day notice to the Union, the Union is still in non-compliance, the Company will cease payment of Trust contributions and move all employee participants to an approved Keolis approved benefit plan.”
Watson said he thinks Keolis wants to portray to the media that it is happy to return to the negotiating table but said he doesn’t believe that’s actually the case.
“But if you go to our website—teamsters533.org—and click on ‘Truth About Keolis,’ you’ll see their proposals,” he said. “You know, I’ve been negotiating numerous contracts over the last 10 years as the president of this local—and any employer is going to know, if you really want to negotiate a contract, you’re not going to negotiate it with the proposals they’re putting out there.”
Watson said RTC is planning to begin new job bidding with bus drivers on Friday.
“Their operations manager, Taquan Jackson from Keolis Transit, has already threatened the employees out here that he’s not going to let them bid if they’re striking,” Watson said. “They continue to threaten the Teamsters, even though we’re out here on a strike. I don’t really believe Keolis wants to get back to the table.”
He added that he thinks RTC should be operating the bus lines in-house.
“There’s other places we represent—Tahoe Transportation District up in Tahoe, they run it in-house. They do an exceptional job up there. All these contractors want to do is suck the money out of the community off the workers’ backs,” he said.