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Keolis loses federal case it filed against union employee

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Keolis Transit North America lost a case seeking to overturn an arbitration found in favor of a local union employee.

The case involves a Reno-area bus driver who was spotted using his cellphone while bus passengers were boarding his bus. Keolis claimed the driver violated the collective bargaining agreement between the company and Teamsters Local 533, which represent transit workers.

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 last year.

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 disputed the arbitrator’s decision and accused the arbitrator of being biased. A judge in federal court, however, saw it differently.

Judge Richard Boulware on Monday ruled in the employee’s favor. 

He said, “Keolis argues that the Arbitrator had a bias in favor of the Union traceable to his decade long tenure at the Union’s counsel’s law firm. Keolis had the Arbitrator’s resume before the parties began the striking process to select an Arbitrator. 

“Keolis agreed on the Arbitrator knowing about his prior work at the Union’s law firm,” Boulware added. “The Court does not find that the Arbitrator withheld important information about his connection to the Union’s law firm. Additionally, outside of this allegation, Keolis does not raise relevant facts that challenge the Arbitrator’s partiality.”

He also said Keolis has to pay attorney fees in the case.

Gary Watson of Teamsters Local 533, the union representing the employee, said the union has about five cases undergoing arbitration. 

“Two of them [Keolis] showed up unprepared for,” he said of what he called two wrongful termination cases. “Local 533 will continue to expose Keolis and its abusive behavior.”

His group has had longrunning disputes with the France-based company after the company was retained by Washoe RTC to operate bus services in the Reno area since 2019.

Watson also said there are still pending labor violations and the local union has signed on with an East Coast transit union for a joint petition to revoke about 40 settlement agreements with Keolis.

Similar to Nevada, unions on the East Coast recently went on strike against Keolis.

One of two strikes on the East Coast was recently resolved with a new contract; a second strike has seen workers go back to work but labor issues are still pending, Watson said.

Keolis refused to comment for this story.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.

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