THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND (5-21-2021) — Trade unionists and community supporters brave a typical balmy northern Nevada spring morning as the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County votes to spend taxpayer money to pay strikebreakers. The three people nearest the camera are, right to left, Reno City Councilmembers Devon Reese and Jenny Brekhus (with hand on the banner's corner) and Local 533 President Gary Watson at Ms. Brekhus' right. [Read the full story]
MILKING PROFITS: Teamsters protest Washoe RTC bus contractor
By Bob Conrad / + Video 5-21-2021

Friday 7-23-2021


GARY WATSON, President
Teamsters Union Local 533
(775) 348-6060 ext. 104

Not hiring enough drivers? Blame the drivers, of course.
Enriching a foreign corporation at taxpayer expense
Bus boss pay raise not granted

RENO, NV (7-22-2021) — "I can't wait to get the RTCRide transit system profiteers face to face next Monday to demand that they reveal where they spent federal millions while ignoring COVID-19 safety, failed to hire enough drivers and allowed route cancellations to spread like a virus," Teamsters Union Local 533 President Gary Watson said on Thursday.
The union's contract with for-profit Keolis Transit expired on June 30. Negotiations are scheduled to resume on Monday, July 26.
"Keolis has since done a good job of making the wheels come off this community's very necessary bus system," Watson added.
"They have refused to enforce federal, state and local Coronavirus safety mandates and threaten to fire drivers who try to do so," he added. (Smoking gun documentation at )
"As of Thursday afternoon, 15 routes are down and passengers are sweating in the sun waiting for a bus that never comes," Watson stated.
"Keolis of course blames its depleted corps of existing drivers who have been infected with COVID-19 en masse largely thanks to company-enforced safety lapses," Watson asserted.
"Two of our drivers have ended up in ICU so far and dozens of others have been hospitalized. Keolis gets paid millions for running a superspreader system that carries upwards of 20,000 passengers a day," Watson said.
"I was angered but not surprised by today's Keolis press release which fails to even mention the word 'COVID,' yet boasts of 95 percent of routes in operation," Watson said.
"The Titanic was in 100 percent operation when it hit that minor obstruction," Watson quipped.
"Not enough lifeboats. Not enough drivers. Failure at the top. Sink to the bottom. People die," Watson illustrated.
"Our transit system often serves the least among us: the infirm, the disabled, the ill, the young, the elderly, the poor and homeless, low-wage workers, minorities, people who need to get to medical appointments. For days on end, countless numbers have waited in the sun for a bus that did not come," Watson said.
"Many of those passengers do not have computers or cell phones to check the Regional Transportation Commission website for what's running and what's run-out. Europe-based Keolis should face serious financial penalties but RTC management has taken them off the hook, so they do little or nothing, which is much more profitable," Watson said.
"Without penalties, Keolis is in no hurry and faces no punishment for failing to hire additional drivers, but they are free to blame the union," Watson stated.
"Employing fewer drivers, cutting overtime and ignoring safety just enhances their profits."
Section 302-B of RTC's 10-year contract with Keolis Transit calls for liquidated (cash) damages to be imposed at $1000.00 per occurrence of a "missed trip." Keolis is also liable for $1,000,00 a day for not filling its general manager position within 30 days of vacancy. (Section 201-B)
"Unfortunately, RTC Executive Director Bill Thomas <> recently informed me that he waived all penalties 16 months ago," Watson said, "so Keolis has no incentive to fulfill its obligations. Meanwhile, people bake in record heat while Keolis basks in millions of RTC federal relief funds while not spending enough on local safety to provide suntan lotion.
"Mr. Thomas torches the system by allowing Keolis to leave open over 30 driver vacancies and permitting them to propose a bus operator schedule that adds 20,000 car trips per year to Washoe County traffic.
"Adding insult to injury, he has facilitated a collective bargaining proposal intended to provoke strikes. It imposes below-inflation wage 'hikes' and would turn employees into part-timers without health insurance – while Thomas has been making $220,000 a year," Watson stated.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County is comprised of Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson (R), Washoe County Commissioners Vaughn Hartung (R) [3] and Bob Lucey (R); Reno City Councilmembers Oscar Delgado (D) and Neoma Jardon, (R), board chair. RTC board e-mail <>
Faced with vocally critical employees, community activists and passengers, the commission last Friday tabled a recommended bonus and increase of Mr. Thomas' $220,000 annual compensation package.
Addressing the commission, veteran Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus said "I’ve focused upon local public policy in this community for 22 years and this is the most conflict-ridden labor situation that I have observed. I really don’t understand how it has come to be. At the City of Reno, we have good labor relations with those who provide essential public services," Brekhus said.
"I just cannot understand how the coach operators who are on the front line as essential workers during this pandemic are at the break point of a strike. I also want to let you know that prior to coming to Council on 2012, this board appointed me to the Transit Advisory Board where I served for about three years," the recently re-elected councilmember added.
Chartered in 1934, Teamsters Local 533 represents about 2,200 workers in various trades throughout northern Nevada and eastern California, including about 200 RTC/Keolis workers.

UPDDATE: Us vs. Them 7-22 & 23, 2021

Y7/22 SpinCity/strike833841/keolis/ibt/unews/opsn21


Before the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County
16 July 2021
View video of the meeting

Comments of Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus
Before the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County

Hello. My name is Jenny Brekhus. Reno City Council Member for Ward 1.  I’d like to impress upon the Board and RTC Management my deep concern about the transit labor strife and the consequences it is having upon my constituents and those region wide.  

First of all, I’ve focused upon local public policy in this community for 22 years and this is the most conflict ridden labor situation that I have observed.  I really don’t understand how it has come to be.  At the City of Reno, we have good labor relations with those who provide essential public services.  I have not heard anything contrary to the other jurisdictions.

I just cannot understand how the coach operators who are on the front line as essential workers during this pandemic are at the break point of a strike.  I also want to let you know that prior to coming to Council on 2012, this board appointed me to the Transit Advisory Board where I served for about 3 years.  

From my understanding of the history of this transit system, it is not acceptable to say that the Board is at arm's length to these negotiations.

 I would encourage the Board to ask your staff to provide you with a detailed history of why operations are designed to be at arm’s length from this agency.  In understanding that history, I think that you will learn that this anti-organized mindset is one that you’ve inherited and from which you must pull back.

I am concerned about our vulnerable transit-dependent population and how the fragile lifeline that the transit system connects them to their daily needs of access to jobs, school, doctors, childcare and all other “trips” that we as auto users take for granted.  Please please make it your preeminent focus until it is done, to reach agreement so that our meager system does not further deteriorate.

There are long term fixes that are necessary for this organization and the funding systems.  Those are complex and will not be easy to address and this situation is an outgrowth of broken systems.  But this is not time to wait, look to or place responsibility upon structural issues.

 NOW is the time to make our transit system work and come to bargaining agreement with these workers.  There are vulnerable people relying upon it.

Thank you.

Comments of Chip Evans / Indivisible Northern Nevada
Before the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County

Good morning.

I want to share my concern that the RTC is dangerously off course in sustaining safe, affordable, reliable, public transportation — an essential service to many of our elderly, homeless, disabled, students and economically disadvantaged residents.

Taking a cursory view of the two years under the current management contract with Keolis, it seems clear to me that failing staff management practices are at the core of the system’s inability to meet its contractual requirements.

Employers are finding it difficult to attract and retain employees. RTC is no different and its vulnerability is very high. Here are things that trouble me:

  • RTC management contracted to maintain a workforce of 176 drivers. I believe the system currently employs 149. It’s not apparent significant steps are underway to close that gap.
  • Top pay rates for long-term employees are perhaps half of market rate for even inexperienced CDL drivers.
  • Given rising costs of living in Washoe County, people are not accepting low-paying jobs with limited income growth potential.
  • Drivers know that management has proposed to reduce their hours — perhaps to disqualify them for health insurance — take away many job protections and offer a paltry wage increase.
  • RTC has a bad reputation among its current drivers and the community as a place for drivers to work. Management has shown shameful disregard for the health and well-being of its drivers.
  • Management’s representation to the press that driver call-ins reflect a union “blue flu” is untruthful and serves to further erode trust.
  • Management’s contingency plans for usual call ins are either nonexistent or grossly inadequate, unlike those of previous management.
  • The number of labor complaints and violations filed for arbitration is far above the levels against previous management.
  • Recently, the vision of riders trying to get to work or school or doctor appointments or to social services, waiting in the awful heat for a bus that never comes or comes very late, offends anyone with a conscience.
  • Waiving fines for missed trips and missed staffing levels has destroyed accountability the public expects.

Added together, these issues represent a management disaster for the drivers, those that rely on RTC services, and the taxpayers. And today, the board is seemingly set to reward this failure with a pay raise and bonus for the man who manages this disaster.

I urge the Board to appoint an outside resource to advise you after reviewing the current situation. I further urge the Board to assess whether the current management contract with Keolis Transit should be abandoned.


Chip Evans is a northern Nevada political activist, former chair of the Democratic Party of Washoe County, 2016 Democratic nominee for Nevada's 2nd Congressional district, and co-founder of Indivisible Northern Nevada.


Read it for yourself

Here's a verbatim order from Keolis Operations Manager Taquan Jackson: "Effective 12:00AM (midnight), February 2, 2021 there will be a federal mandate for masks to be worn on public transportation. This is a requirement the local team and RTC have been encouraging and adhering to for some time now. Although the mandate was (sic) been escalated our operators are not to enforce this policy whatsoever."


Mr. Jackson expects his employees to be acrobats, adhering while ignoring.

This is nothing new. Mr. Hassan ordered this on June 26, 2020: "We are not to deny ridership for not having a mask, do not refuse riders."

A driver can refuse to board a pantsless passenger but not a maskless one. (That sitcom scenario actually happened last year.)

The transit system's bedrock customers are the least among us: The elderly, the very young, minorities, the disabled, homeless and those of low income who cannot afford autos or don't drive.

Some employees are allowed to work sick. Health, safety and COVID-19 test results have been withheld in violation of the union contract. Why won't RTC let the union know how many safety complaints come in from passengers?

Last year, RTC received $26.2 million in federal relief funds.

RTC Washoe provided billing from Keolis which showed they spent only $338,000 on COVID-19 safety.

RTC further informed the union that Keolis swept much of the rest directly to corporate profit.

On August 17, 2021, a National Labor Relations Board judge will review why Keolis refuses to disclose how many union members contracted COVID-19, among other union-busting charges.

Please contact your five commissioners and advocate for endangered passengers and workers.


RTC: "We are world-class virus smiters" Teamsters: "And world-renowned liars"
By Kristen Hackbarth / This Is Reno 2-3-2021

2002 RTC Transit Strike Archive

Bus drivers' union opposes rewarding RTC boss for abuses
Updated 7-15, 7-16, 7-17 & 7-21-2021 GMT

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