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Keolis sues Teamsters over lost arbitration

By Bob Conrad

Keolis Transit North America early this month took Teamsters Local 533 to court seeking to overturn an arbitration found in the Teamsters’ favor.

The case involves a Reno-area bus driver who was twice spotted using his cellphone while bus passengers were boarding his bus. Keolis claimed the driver violated the collective bargaining agreement between the company and the union.

In addition, the company’s rules prohibit “employees from using a cell phone” while the employee “is in the seat of any company vehicle,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court.

The arbitrator agreed the employee violated company policy but said the driver, who was fired, had to be reinstated and “made whole for lost wages and benefits.”

“Keolis has expanded the cell phone prohibition far beyond the labor agreement’s proscription,” he wrote. “What is far less clear however, is whether ‘operating’ a vehicle includes the time spent by the driver in a parked bus at a curb stop, which safety brakes engaged, while the engine idles.”

Keolis further accused the arbitrator of bias in favor of the union.

Teamsters boss Gary Watson called Keolis sore losers.

“Arbitration is normally considered final and binding,” he said. “They’re saying the arbitrator is biased because he worked for our law firm – 20 or 30 years ago. 

“The parties strike off [arbitrators] until you get one arbitrator. Keolis got to strike first, and they had every opportunity to not use this arbitrator,” he added. “If you read the decision, our member was even suspended. This is just more rhetoric from this company.”

He further accused Washoe RTC of playing favorites with Keolis. 

The lawsuit is the latest in the long-running dispute between the multinational company and its union employees. It started during the pandemic when the union accused Washoe RTC and Keolis of failing to enforce mandatory mask-wearing on buses – a complaint confirmed by another independent arbitrator – and resulted in three unprecedented strikes last year.

A This Is Reno investigation found Keolis and Washoe RTC employees worked hand-in-hand to coordinate responses to the strikes. Those efforts included denigrating local activists, spying on private Facebook groups for comments about Keolis and RTC staff editing press statements for Keolis.

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