Eight days into a bus strike, Reno Police Department (RPD) officers on Tuesday were called to the Fourth Street Bus station for allegations of trespassing on Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) property against Teamsters Local 533 union members.
Some 200 union members went on strike on Aug. 2 against the France-based, multinational company Keolis—whose subsidiary, Keolis North America, has a contract to operate RTC transit in Washoe County.
The contract between Keolis and the Teamsters expired on June 30. Bargaining agreement negotiations between the two have been largely fruitless since late spring, and the union has been threatening a “Hot August Strike” for months. The strike began shortly after the start of the annual Hot August Nights classic cars festival.
The police were called to the picket lines outside the bus station by an Allied Universal Security Services officer a little before 4 p.m., Teamsters said.
The Allied Security officer who was alleged to have called the police declined to speak on the record and referred media to Allied Universal. A call to Allied Universal public relations staff was not immediately returned.
“Allied Security, who is asking them to move, is able to tell them where they can strike,” said RTC spokesperson Michael Moreno. “The union is aware that they cannot strike on private property. Those strikers have encroached upon RTC’s property. So, that is why they are being asked to move onto the public right of way.”
The shade structures are RTC property, he said. The public right of way is on the sidewalk.
One union member said to This Is Reno, “And then they’ll call the police on us for obstructing sidewalk traffic.”
Moreno clarified that Allied Universal officers were asking the strikers to move and had called RPD at the behest of RTC.
“We’ve been out here for a week now, and we’ve been on this corner ever since day one,” said union representative Chris Fuqua. “During the heat of the day, we’ve been more organized. So, we’ve been bringing out shade structures. And, today, there was supposed to be that meeting between the company, Hillary Schieve and the Teamsters, which did not happen.”
Fuqua said the reason the meeting was canceled was because the union and Keolis were “unable to get a tentative agreement” on health care. This Is Reno has asked city officials, including Hillary Schieve, about the rumored city-facilitated meeting but has yet to receive a response.
“So, today, since their higher-ups are out here, they’re kind of pushing a little harder on what security is doing. Security is trying to push us back. They’re trying to take us away from the building—saying we can’t sit under the shade structures, saying we can’t have our own shade structures and that we need to stay four to six feet away from the street,” Fuqua said of the Allied Security guards.
When police arrived, they spoke with Allied security officers and union representatives, including Fuqua and Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson, in a back-and-forth that lasted about 20 minutes. The police said they were attempting to find an amicable solution to the conflict.
Moreno called back after the police had arrived to say that both police and security guards were being advised to allow the union members to finish their strike activities for Tuesday in their current location but said they would be required to move to the sidewalk on Wednesday or again have the police called on them for trespassing.
Lieutenant Hallert of RPD said, “We came out today to just handle a civil issue between the union out here at RTC and the RTC management. We came to a palatable agreement for both sides for tonight.”
In response, Watson said, “RTC Washoe is public property. We’re out here peacefully protesting. What the RTC doesn’t like is the members out here holding picket signs about them and the incompetence that they have running this transit system with their contractor Keolis… They have numerous people walking around here, loitering, doing nothing—but they don’t want to kick them off. But if they have a picket sign out here, they want to kick you off. They’re violating our First Amendment rights.”
Watson said that the union sent a letter through its legal counsel to Reno City Attorney Karl Hall concerning the allegations of First Amendment rights violations.
Updated: This story has been updated to add a comment from a union member regarding shade structures on the sidewalk and to correct a statement that said the health care trust is for RTC employees. The trust is only for Teamsters, not all RTC employees.
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.