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Arbitrator finds Keolis violated union agreement by failing to enforce masks on buses

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on

Teamsters Local 533 is claiming victory again in its dispute with Keolis Transit North America. 

Keolis was found by an independent arbitrator to have violated the collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters during the pandemic. 

Stephen Hayford, the arbitrator, said Keolis tried to mitigate COVID-19 on buses but failed to protect drivers – particularly by not enforcing masks for bus passengers starting in 2020 and continuing into 2021.

“Laudable as those mitigation efforts have been, they are not primarily directed at the workplace hazard created for Coach Operators by unmasked passengers,” he wrote.

About half of the reports of unmasked passengers did “not result in a passenger intercept,” the abtrator noted. 

“The Union has proven that in failing to make every reasonable effort to protect bargaining unit Coach Operators from the threat to their health and safety caused by unmasked passengers riding RTC buses, the Company has violated, and presumably continues to violate … the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” he added. 

A sign at RTC’s Fourth Street Station on June 30, 2020.

The Teamsters in early summer 2020 complained about riders not wearing masks after they were mandated by Gov. Steve Sisolak. RTC Washoe then mandated masks but according to the arbitrator, enforcement was hit and miss. 

Even after masks were mandated, signs at the Fourth Street bus station indicated masks were recommended but not required.

Hayford directed Keolis to fix the problem and “make certain that when that encounter transpires and a non-exempt passenger continues to refuse to wear a mask while on the bus, the passenger is removed from the bus.”

The Teamsters also settled 17 federal labor complaints with the French-based company.

Failure to provide safety information to drivers are among complaints Teamsters filed against Keolis with the National Labor Relations Board. 

As a result of the settlement, Keolis has to post a series of statements saying it will furnish information and not retaliate against union members. 

Gary Watson, Teamsters president, said there are 17 more pending complaints against Keolis. 

RTC Washoe spokesperson Lauren Ball said RTC follows TSA guidance on mask requirements.

“The RTC has directed its contractors to enforce a strict policy of mask-wearing on buses and at transit stations,” she said, noting they now conduct compliance exercises. “During RTC staff’s most recent observation exercise, staff observed 100% compliance by passengers.”

Keolis’ spokesperson Mike Ake said the company will continue to put passenger safety first. He did not comment on the arbitrator’s finding of the company’s past practices that suggested otherwise.

UPDATE: This story was updated after initial publication to include statements from RTC and Keolis.

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