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Keolis loses in arbitration over temp workers hired during pandemic

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An arbitrator last month sided with members of Teamsters Local 533 ruling that temporary workers hired to help clean buses at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had worked long enough at their jobs to be considered regular Keolis employees. 

The dispute stems from a section of the union’s contract with Keolis that states temporary employees who perform bargaining unit work and do so beyond the probationary period – 90 days in this case – are entitled to become regular employees with seniority from the first day they began the work. 

Union members argued that long-term use of temporary employees who perform the same work as members of the collective bargaining agreement threaten the livelihood and job security of union members. 

“This is a great victory for all of our members and a constant reminder to always protect your work,” said Gary Watson, the union’s president. “Protecting your work is protecting your JOBS!”

Officials with the Regional Transportation Commission in June 2020 determined that the intensive cleaning procedures required to sanitize buses would require a company with expertise in more specialized cleaning procedures. 

RTC made an agreement with Keolis, the France-based contractor that operates RTC’s buses, for Keolis to contract temporary workers to perform the cleaning. RTC would then pass through federal COVID-19 funds it received for the cleaning to allow Keolis to pay the contracted workers. The temporary workers were contracted from June 2020 through June or July 2022 when the specialized cleaning process ended.

In the complaint, Teamsters alleged that the contracted workers had worked alongside union bus washers, and eventually both were doing the same cleaning tasks.

Keolis officials disagreed. 

Among the company’s arguments were that the temporary workers had specific expertise beyond the union members to perform the sanitization work. 

Keolis officials, during arbitration, also argued that the temporary workers were actually not hired directly by Keolis – that the company was a pass-through for the RTC – and that the temporary workers didn’t complete Keolis’ formal training, making their probationary period incomplete.

The dispute over the employment status of the contracted temporary workers goes back months. In 2021 as the union and Keolis worked through a new collective bargaining agreement, Keolis worked to remove the contract section addressing the use of temporary workers. 

The arbitrator summarized, “The Union asserts that the Company had knowledge of the Union’s intent and interpretation of Section 11.5 [covering categories of employees] and even made a proposal to eliminate the section, demonstrating its understanding that the Union’s interpretation of the language was correct.”

The contracted temporary employees affected by the decision who worked at least 90 calendar days now have the option to accept employment with Keolis and receive lost wages and benefits, including retroactive seniority. 

Keolis has lost a number of similar disputes with the Union and last year sued the union over a lost arbitration. The Union late last year indicated it wanted to rescind a number of labor settlements with the international company for what it called repeated bad-faith dealings.

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Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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