A little more than a month after the last bus driver strike, the Teamsters Local 533 union called for another one.
Operation of Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) buses was called to a halt at noon on Monday.
Bus drivers began finishing routes and returning their buses to the lot. In the early afternoon, dozens of them gathered holding picket signs at the Fourth Street bus stop in downtown.
The union and Keolis North America—the France-based company with which the RTC contracts to operate its buses—have failed to negotiate successfully since the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between them expired on June 30. In August, the union went on a nearly two-week strike.
The last CBA negotiations between Keolis and the Teamsters took place on Friday. Those appear to have stalled, despite the presence of a federal mediator.
“We have met four times with [Keolis] since our last labor dispute,” said Gary Watson, union president. “They have refused to bargain in good faith with us.”
He alleged Keolis and the union had arrived at “six to seven tentative agreements” but only “because the federal mediator was about ready to quit because of Keolis’ actions at the bargaining table.”
Earlier this month, the union filed complaints against Keolis North America with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). These were in addition to dozens filed within the last year.
The most recent NLRB complaints allege that Keolis is wrongfully refusing to meet for negotiations without a federal mediator present and is trying to shift scheduling duties from local employees to a third party in Texas, changing a decades-old bidding process drivers use to pick up shifts.
Watson said following the August strike that the union only agreed to meet with a federal mediator prior to striking again, not every time CBA negotiations take place.
That allegation is only partially true. An agreement between Keolis and the union signed Aug. 12 to end the strike concluded with, “The parties agree to meet to reach a successor agreement and to meet with [a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service] to mediate before striking or lockouts. Such meetings will be traditional negotiations conducted face to face in a singular room with the assistance of the mediator.”
However, Watson said the latest strike was specifically related to Keolis’ desire to change scheduling protocols. The company wants bus drivers to begin bidding on shifts in week-long blocks. The union has argued that drivers are used to being able to bid on shifts day-to-day.
“We are here today based on Keolis refusing to [remove] a block-bidding proposal for these drivers,” Watson said. “The day-to-day stuff is how they’ve bid for close to 40 years here. It’s worked for our members. Our members have family-care needs that they need to take care of, whether it’s their children, their significant others, their elderly family members that they care for. The way they bid is essential for them to make sure that they can take care of their family obligations too.”
He alleged that there would be no cost to Keolis to maintain the current shift bidding system and that the company’s desire to do so is because it wants “power, and they want control.”
Watson has said numerous times over the last several months that the RTC should end its contract with Keolis, alleging service for customers is suffering and that Keolis and the RTC want to place the blame on drivers and the union.
“This company is hired by the RTC Washoe to perform fixed-route services. After 40 years of this system operating in a decent, reliable way for passengers, it is being torn apart and diminished by a lack of oversite [sic] and accountability of Keolis and the RTC Washoe,” Watson wrote in an email earlier this month.
The RTC refuted this claim.
Michael Moreno, spokesperson for the RTC earlier this month said that in “the first two years as RTC’s transit contractor, Keolis has delivered significant improvements in service reliability, maintenance, customer satisfaction, and safety. Prior to the pandemic, Keolis delivered fewer missed trips than RTC’s previous contractor, along with reduced crash rates, and reduced customer complaints. Keolis has also achieved a perfect preventive maintenance inspection record.”
Michael Ake, regional vice president of operations for Keolis North America, said the company was “disappointed” by the union’s decision to strike.
“Keolis is focused on the safety and well-being of our passengers and employees. We will continue to work with the Regional Transportation Commission to ensure passengers have the most frequent and reliable transportation options possible,” he said.
RTC announces free rides, and Keolis managers “driving routes to pick up stranded passengers”
Following the announcement of the strike this afternoon, the transportation commission announced that “RTC RIDE service is not running, with the exception of very limited service on the Regional Connector, Virginia Line and Route 7.”
Riders should check rtcwashoe.com for specific route details.
RTC ACCESS paratransit service and RTC FlexRIDE are running, according to the RTC spokesperson, who added that it is requesting “customers only request rides for essential trips during the strike duration.”
The RTC reported it has implemented alternative transportation options to assist riders during the strike.
RTC’s Moreno reported Monday afternoon that “Keolis managers will be driving routes to pick up stranded passengers, but passengers are encouraged” to seek other options, including:
- RTC FlexRIDE: FlexRIDE service is available in the contingency zones noted on maps provided at rtcwashoe.com, but this service is limited on vehicles and staff to operate the vehicles. Therefore, the RTC must limit access to this service to essential trips only, such as medical, dental, vision, job/employment-related trips. Please call the RTC to book. Bookings via the app are not currently available for the contingency zones.
- Taxi: Taxi service is available by calling the RTC at (775) 348-0477. The RTC will book the taxi trip for the customer.
- UberX: UberX vouchers are available to riders who are stranded and need emergency transportation. For information and to request a voucher call the RTC at (775) 348-0477, and press option 2.
- UberX program details:
- The RTC Washoe-Uber Emergency Rides voucher is valid for two Uber rides with a maximum of $20 per Uber ride. Any amount over $20 will be automatically charged to the user’s debit or credit card on file on their Uber account.
- Uber Vouchers will expire on Oct. 31, 2021.
- Eligible rides can be taken 24/7.
- Vehicle type will apply only to UberX trips.
- Eligible trips must start and end in the Reno-Sparks area. Trips that begin or end outside of the service area are not eligible.
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.