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Union wants to rescind settlements for dozens of labor complaints filed against Keolis

By Bob Conrad

Transit workers in Virginia vote to authorize strike against the France-based company

Teamsters Local 533 last weekend issued a statement saying they wanted to revoke the settlement of dozens of labor violations filed against Keolis Transit North America.

The Teamsters, during the pandemic, filed labor complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal government agency, mostly during the pandemic, in its ongoing dispute with Keolis.

Keolis is a contractor for the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission since 2019. Conflicts between the union and Keolis were at the heart of three unprecedented strikes held last year, in which Keolis employees, represented by the Teamsters, walked off the job.

Those three strikes last year halted most bus services while workers were on the picket line.

The local Teamsters called for the revocation of its settlement agreements with Keolis – which were settled in March, as first reported by This Is Reno – in connection with the Amalgamated Transit Union on the East Coast.

Both accuse Keolis of illegal conduct, including threats, unlawful terminations and illegally withholding information from employees.  

ATU issued three complaints against Keolis, and the local Teamsters since March have filed four additional complaints to the federal government.

“Keolis has engaged in an astounding amount of misconduct in a short period of time,” the two groups wrote in their request to rescind their prior settlements. “Since June 2020, the National Labor Relations Board has found merit to at least 47 different unfair labor practice charges against Keolis.

“There is a striking symmetry between Keolis misconduct in Loudoun County, Virginia and in Reno, Nevada,” they added. “By engaging in like and related conduct violative of the National Labor Relations Act, Keolis has violated the terms of the settlement agreements, so ATU and Teamsters Local 533 request that Region 32 use the default provisions in each settlement agreement to revoke the settlements, issue or reissue Complaint on all allegations, and seek default judgement.”

A PR representative for Keolis said they will not comment on pending labor complaints.

Emails retrieved as part of a public records request, however, show Keolis reps were really upset at the Teamsters and coordinated closely with RTC on what and how to communicate.

“[Teamsters President Gary] Watson is beyond inflammatory at this point and I have suggested that legal review his statements on the grounds of actionable defamation,” said Rachel Gattuso, who has been hired by Keolis to promote the company in Reno. 

Teamsters Union 533 members strike against Keolis North America on Aug. 3, 2021.
Teamsters Union 533 members strike against Keolis North America on Aug. 3, 2021. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

ATU members vote to authorize a strike in Virginia

John Ertl, collective bargaining administrator for ATU, said the company’s practices in the U.S. are a far cry from how Keolis treats its employees in France.

“We are currently bargaining a union contract at Loudoun County [Virginia] Transit,” Ertl said. “Keolis has an aggressive growth strategy in this country which is predicated on putting in low bids, winning work and squeezing the workforce.”

“We will do whatever it takes to win a fair contract.”

He said public transit, which is frequently privatized in the U.S., goes to a low bidder, and with fixed costs for services, labor is considered a flexible cost.

“This is a very anti-union company in a country where unionism is largely accepted,” he said. “In Loudoun County, Virginia, they busted the union. They inherited a unionized workforce, and then it was merged in with a non-union workforce, and [Keolis] took advantage of the legal system for labor law in our county to refuse to recognize the union.

“We believe this is an illegal act, and litigation is ongoing.”

Ertl, like Reno’s Teamsters’ boss Watson, said they previously enjoyed a working relationship with transit companies prior to Keolis. Like the Teamsters in Reno, Ertl said ATU filed dozens of unfair labor practice charges against Keolis.

“A complaint has been filed against them for a number of those charges,” he added. “Keolis came to Loudoun County with an extermination agenda for the union. Their behavior [here] is very reminiscent of what happened in Reno.”

He said yesterday ATU members voted to authorize a strike with 96% of the members approving the vote.

“A strike is a last resort and we truly do not want it to happen,” Ertl said. “But we will do whatever it takes to win a fair contract.”

Keolis’ representative did not respond to a request for comment about the strike vote.

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