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Virginia transit strike may have ripples in northern Nevada

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Members of Teamsters Local 533 may head to the picket line in the coming days in support of Keolis workers who’ve gone on strike on the other side of the country. 

Transit workers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 (ATU) in Loudoun County, Virginia, on Tuesday voted to strike against Keolis North America, which holds the bus contract in the county. 

Washoe County’s Regional Transportation Commission also contracts with Keolis to run buses in Reno and Sparks.

ATU members have fought Keolis for nearly two years after they said the company slashed workers’ benefits after winning the Loudoun County contract with a promise of the same or better benefits. 

The union has also lodged a number of complaints against Keolis with the National Labor Relations Board similar to those filed by Teamsters in northern Nevada, as This Is Reno first reported in November.

ATU Local 689 President Raymond Jackson told Virginia news outlet Loudoun Now that Keolis “left us with no other choice.”

“A strike is always the last option. And I wanted to really try and work it out with Keolis, but there’s no reasoning with unreasonable people,” Jackson added.

Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson

Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson said ATU has considered sending members to northern Nevada to picket Keolis here as well. He said if that was the case, local Teamsters have the option to honor the picket line. 

“Our members, through our collective bargaining agreement, have a right in there to honor any picket line,” Watson said. 

If local union members join the picket line against Keolis, that could lead to another halt in transit service locally. 

It won’t be a strike, though, Watson said.

He said he’s been reaching out to local officials as things have grown more heated between ATU and Keolis in the past several months. 

“I am trying to have conversations with the RTC officials … about what’s going on here and what potentially could happen, but now obviously it’s been escalated to a labor dispute back there in Loudoun County,” Watson added. 

He said he’s asked some of the RTC commissioners “if there’s any support that they can have to put on their contractor Keolis here in northern Nevada so it doesn’t extend to our region.”

RTC Chair and Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson said he supports the workers’ right to picket.

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson.
Sparks Mayor and RTC Chair Ed Lawson.

“As the RTC Board Chair, I would expect nothing less from the Keolis drivers, it is perfectly within their rights to picket off duty,” Lawson said. “I would expect the Teamsters Union to stand in solidarity with the fellow union drivers in Virginia by picketing in support of their issues.” 

Lawson added that he doesn’t see the picket devolving into a strike for the region.

Watson said he hoped the potential for picketing locally would spur elected officials to have more conversations with Keolis about their labor practices.

“They should be having conversations with upper officials [at Keolis] saying ‘What’s going on, why is this coming to our area?’” Watson said. “They should also be having conversations with Loudoun County going, ‘What’s going on in Loudoun County and why is this possibly coming to Reno, Nevada?’” 

Meanwhile, Teamsters Local 533 has lodged a handful more complaints against Keolis with the National Labor Relations Board. 

The union is also waiting on resolution of their request to rescind settlement agreements from the labor board made with Keolis for a number of other complaints stemming back to 2020 and 2021. That request was made in early November in connection with ATU, which has filed three other complaints. 

The Teamsters also recently announced they prevailed in another labor dispute against Keolis late last year.

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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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