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RTC boss blasts Teamsters, says union misleading the public

By Bob Conrad

Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) Executive Director Bill Thomas today blasted the Teamsters Local 533 for going on strike yesterday. He said the reasons given for the third strike this year by the union make no sense and are harming the community.

“I know that people are frustrated with the RTC for not being able to prevent these strikes. As head of the RTC, it is frustrating for me, personally,” Thomas said. “However, the RTC is not a party to the negotiations between Teamsters and Keolis and we are not in control of whether or not people decide to work. These negotiations, by law, can only be between the Teamsters and Keolis.”

Yesterday Teamsters Executive Gary Watson said Keolis North America’s “best and final offer” fell short of what he said union members want. He said the offer by Keolis–a12% wage increase for employees over the next three years–falls short of the desired nearly 6% per year for a 17% increase over three years.

“Teamsters’ representatives have accused Keolis of not coming to the bargaining table,” Thomas said today. “That is not true. It was Teamsters’ representatives that refused to bargain over wages and compensation last week. Instead, Teamsters’ representatives demanded Keolis’ best and final offer. After receiving that offer, the union never came back with a counteroffer, refused to engage in further mediation and instead called a third strike.”

“We will assume that this is going to be a long-term strike and our decisions and actions will reflect that.”

Watson said RTC has the power to reinstate fines to Keolis for missed rides. Thomas said, however, RTC is following federal guidance for COVID-19 restrictions that are being followed by transit operations across the country.

“The RTC is waiving liquidated damages to continue to encourage employees that are sick to stay home,” Thomas said. “Transit agencies across the country made the same decision to waive liquidated damages during COVID and continue to do so. This is about the safety of drivers and passengers in our community.”

Watson disputed this statement.

“[Thomas] claims he has waived the damages so sick people can stay at home, but in fact this allows Keolis to operate without adequate staffing,” he said. “Keolis is supposed to staff at 176 drivers when in fact they are only staffing at 91 drivers and this is why their transit system is failing.”

The soonest those damages would be reinstituted is mid-January.

Thomas said rhetoric by Teamsters is making the situation worse for everyone, including their own members.

“These misrepresentations by Teamsters’ representatives are extremely frustrating. However, let me be clear: that frustration does not extend to the Keolis employees who are Teamster members. I have incredible respect and admiration for the frontline transit employees who came to work during the unprecedented challenges we faced during COVID.”

Thomas also said getting rid of Keolis will not solve the problem, and there are two years left remaining in the contract with the company.

“Starting today, RTC’s approach to this situation will change. We will redouble our efforts to find alternative transportation options for our passengers who have been stranded by this strike. We will assume that this is going to be a long-term strike and our decisions and actions will reflect that,” Thomas said.

RTC spent about $28,000 on taxi and Uber service during the second strike.

“The RTC anticipates this cost will go up during the third strike as we ramp up efforts to provide alternative transportation options to people in our community who rely on public transit,” said RTC spokesperson Lauren Ball.

Watson today accused Thomas of siding with Keolis.

“Thomas has made it clear he and the RTC must stay neutral and cannot legally be involved in negotiations. As you can clearly see today, [he] is not, nor has he ever been, a neutral third party,” Watson said. “It’s frustrating but not surprising, he is not part of the contract negotiations but discussing inner workings of contract negotiations that he has claimed to not be privy to.

“His remarks are inaccurate, unsupportive of the employees and will likely cause further fallout to an exhausted, unappreciated and dwindling workforce who have been leaving for brighter, better paying opportunities by the bus load.”

Watch the RTC press conference

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