Members of the Democratic Party of Washoe County, the Reno-Sparks NAACP and Indivisible Northern Nevada were on the picket line with members of the Teamsters Local 533 Tuesday morning as the strike against Keolis North America, which operates Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) buses, dragged into its eighth day.
Stephanie McCurry, president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, said she came out in support of the Teamsters for many reasons.
“I came out because I care as an individual,” she said. “In these challenging times, during a pandemic, health care should not be on the table… If you want the local transit workers to show up on time, if you are asking them to perform, if you’re asking them to put their lives on the frontlines during a pandemic … then health care should not even be a question or a bargaining chip.”
Sarah Mahler is the chair of the Democratic Party of Washoe County said the situation “just reeked of big corporations trying to squeeze the little guy again and again and again” while minding their own bottom line.
“It just is a repeat of the same thing over and over and over,” she said. “Corporations are there for their shareholders and the CEOs and not for the working people.”
Kimberly Carden is a member of Indivisible Northern Nevada. She said the organization’s members felt they had no choice but to come out in support of the strikers.
“Labor came out on strike against their management, and everything we researched as far as management is concerned is that they’re not taking care of their employees,” she said. “The fact that they want to take away their health care—especially now, during a pandemic—that is just absolutely reprehensible. And these are working class people, and they deserve a fair wage. They deserve to work in an environment that is safe, and management is not providing that.”
Another member of Indivisible Northern Nevada, Gaye Nickles, said, “This is our—your—bus service—and that it is failing is upon us to contact RTC and to let the RTC people know that this is a management problem. This is not a union problem… Any time there’s a strike, it’s a problem with management.”
David Pritchett, a member of the Washoe County Democratic Party Central Committee, said he feels the RTC board should not pretend that it’s uninvolved in the dispute between Keolis and the Teamsters. The RTC has claimed it has no involvement in the negotiations and is legally barred from participating in them.
“They could push this to be resolved in a week if they chose to, if the board majority chose to,” he said, adding, “The real people hurting here are the riders who need and depend upon transit to get around in our community, which has already been difficult during the pandemic. And now most of the routes are closed, and that’s a constituency directly affected in addition to the employees.”
According to the RTC, there are currently three bus lines operating—11, 1 and 7. The Regional Connector to Carson City is only departing from the Fourth Street bus station at 6:17 a.m. and at 5:00 p.m. daily.
Pritchett added that he sees Keolis’ role as a “middle broker contractor” and would like to see the bus drivers and other employees work directly for RTC, noting that it’s been a successful model in other areas like the Tahoe Transportation District.
The idea of having RTC directly operate its buses through the union has been bandied about by many people. Union President Gary Watson has said it’s not something to which the Teamsters would object.
Rumors circulated, and some media reported, yesterday that Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve was attempting to set up some type of meeting between the Teamsters, RTC and Keolis. Watson said there had been communications between the mayor and Teamsters to that effect.
“We were very clear with our intentions to the mayor right off the bat that Keolis knows what it needs to do to get us back to the table,” he said. “The RTC Washoe, for some reason, leaked to the media that we were all meeting on Tuesday. Well, that meeting wasn’t confirmed because their contractor has not signed the health care proposal to get us back to the table.”
Watson said Keolis currently pays $740 per month per employee for their health care. He said in Keolis’ proposal to the Teamsters they indicated going forward they would only pay $711, leaving the remainder of the cost to the union. The cost of the plan is $764 per employee.
Initially, the union wanted Keolis to pay the full amount for the remainder of the year before caps could kick in next year.
Watson said, “Out of good faith, the union backed off that proposal and split it in half. So, they’d take on $12 more, and we’d take on $12 more for the remainder of the year. That essentially has been rejected by the employer because they want to add more caveats into the proposal before they would sign off on it.”
This Is Reno reached out to Mayor Schieve but did not receive a response prior to the publication of this story. At this time, no meeting facilitated by the mayor, or any other local elected officials, is scheduled. Nor are any bargaining meetings.
“These members are holding strong out here,” Watson said. “I’ve got strike checks coming for them today.”
Keolis did not provide direct comment for this story but released a statement to the media on Monday.
“From day one of negotiations, providing healthcare has—unequivocally—been central to our CBA offer, and we look forward to resuming those negotiations after offering 30 opportunities to do so in August,” said Jenny Fahlbush, Keolis spokesperson. “Keolis has very productive working relationships with dozens of labor organizations across the United States and we look forward to building a similar rapport with Teamsters Local 533 here in Reno where we’ve operated for more than two years.”
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.