TEAMSTERS LOCAL 533
NORTHERN NEVADA/NORTHEASTERN CALIFORNIA
Bus drivers lay to rest one of their own, call on RTC to enforce COVID-19 protections
By Astrid Mendez / KTNV TV-13 (ABC-Las Vegas) 1-22-2021
"We just come to work here, we don't come to die." Union longshoreman and labor songwriter Harry Stamper
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
GARY WATSON, President
Teamsters Union Local 533
(775) 348-6060 ext. 104
JOHN E. FOSTER, President & Business Agent
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1637
Las Vegas, Nevada
Funeral today for 2nd driver felled by COVID-19
Will President Biden's new executive order help?
LAS VEGAS , Nev. (1-22-2021) "How many more must die before Nevada enforces mass transit mask mandates?" John Foster asked while preparing to bury another of his union members.
Dorothy Ann Frazier will be laid to rest today in Las Vegas, the second fatality caused by lax COVID-19 safety procedures by Nevada mass transit systems.
"She was a valued longtime member of our union and we mourn this needless passing," Foster said.
He serves as president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1637 which represents drivers and support staff employed by Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission subcontractors.
Ms. Frazier leaves two children, 10 grandchildren, five sisters and two brothers.
"Our transit systems have created an epidemic of denial during a deadly pandemic," Foster asserted.
Northern Nevada has suffered the same way.
"More than two dozen of our drivers plus some support workers have contracted COVID-19," stated Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson of Reno. "Two were admitted to intensive care but have so far survived," he added.
"Social distancing is a thing of the past. Some buses pack passengers like sardines at peak hours but the foreign-owned management contractor will not dispatch additional vehicles to relieve overcrowding," Watson said. [See for yourself: Facts from the front of the bus.]
Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County Chair Neoma Jardon, a Reno councilmember, recently asserted that the local transit system is safe and forces passengers and drivers to wear masks.
"Has Chair Jardon ever boarded a bus? Nothing could be further from the truth," Watson said.
"Transit authorities still refuse to provide accurate information despite contractual obligations and federal orders," he added.
On Thursday, President Joseph Biden signed an executive order mandating masks and social distancing on mass transit nationwide. He also fired notorious anti-worker lawyer Peter Robb as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, the body mandated by law to protect worker rights which has often been perverted into a tool of exploitive corporations.
"Bus systems accept a lot of federal money," Foster said, adding "if they will not now comply, we will ask our congressional delegation as well as state and local officials to come down hard in a language they understand money. This abuse must stop before more people die."
Because of lax standards, the bus systems are acting as superspreaders, land-based ocean liners.
"These organizations are designed for non-accountability," Watson said. "There are so many levels of political and management bureaucracy that it's much easier to pass the buck than do anything. Everyone else is running at 25 percent capacity under the governor's orders, why not transit systems?" the longtime union leader demanded.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County consists of five elected officials from the Washoe County Commission and the Sparks and Reno city councils. (See below.)
For decades, RTC's north and south have subcontracted transit management to for-profit contractors. The current Washoe management company is Keolis Transit America, a subsidiary of multi-national for-profit Keolis Transit. In southern Nevada, former Washoe manager MV Transportation runs part of the system with Keolis responsible for another.
"Our patience with Keolis evaporated when we learned that a passenger was refused boarding because he was pantsless but maskless passengers were allowed on the bus," Watson said.
"An epidemic of barefaced passengers rides every day, some on dangerously overcrowded buses. One rider even spit at a driver. Bus system management has tried to have it both ways, posting signs that masks are ineffective and others stating masks are mandatory, all the while threatening drivers with firing if they try to enforce the governor's legal order," Watson added.
"Keolis has even perverted the Americans With Disabilities Act in order to proceed under the fictitious and feckless assumption that everyone without a mask is somehow disabled and can't wear one," the longtime union leader stated.
"This conduct is bad for tourism and economic development," Watson declared.
"Reno-Sparks RTC has two levels of bureaucracy on top of the foreign subcontractor, so whenever there's a problem, elected officials and system administrators can blame the non-Nevadans and walk away. Giving control to foreign companies provides local elected officials with plausible deniability no matter what happens," Watson asserted.
"Over the years, these flawed policies have only cost untold millions in tax dollars. Now, they are taking lives. RTC has spent advertising money promoting the fiction that they are following Gov. Sisolak's mask mandate when they are doing no such thing. Ms. Jardon apparently believes TV commercials," he added.
"Bus passengers are often among the most vulnerable in our society, minorities, the young, the elderly, the disabled, low-wage workers and people going to get tested for the virus," Watson said.
"This 'no mask required policy' clearly has a disparate impact on low income families and disproportionately on people of color," stated Reno-Sparks NAACP President Lonnie Feemster last month.
Noting that Keolis enforces mask-wearing in Europe, Nevada Lt. Governor Kate Marshall recently asked "why can't they keep passengers and drivers safe in Nevada?"
Last June, Washoe County health officer Kevin Dick advised people to walk away from businesses not practicing proper safety procedures.
"Over the past seven months, we have filed multiple charges of illegal unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board. We have gone to U.S. District Court where expensive union-busting Keolis lawyers have employed every trick in the book to delay action to protect passengers and workers," Watson noted.
"We have beseeched all levels of government, including law enforcement, to help. Without exception, each and every one has passed the buck. Perhaps now that the election season is over and more people are getting sick and dying, something will change," Watson added.
The union has called for free ongoing testing for drivers and support staff as well as using RTC security to enforce the governor's mandate.
Washoe system managers told KTVN TV-2 in September that they will not use their standing security force to enforce the governor's orders but instead rely on local police. However, both the Washoe County Sheriff and Reno Police Department have served notice that they will not aid the safety of the bus system. Buck passed.
"Regional Transportation Commission Executive Director Bill Thomas has appeared on paid advertising asserting that the governor's mandate is being enforced. But his managers are telling our drivers that anyone without a mask must be allowed to board or they risk disciplinary action," Watson noted.
"Bus systems have become rolling superspreaders, major contributors to spiraling infection rates," Foster charged.
"We need strong enforcement and we need it now," Watson said. "In Reno-Sparks alone, 20,000 passengers a day are being exposed due to the intransigence of transit managers and indifference of our political leaders," he added.
"Show me a local bar that serves 20,000 people a day," Watson asked.
In Los Angeles, a Keolis driver still on chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery was fired for demanding that a passenger don a mask and for complaining about the companys failure to outfit buses with plastic partitions or supply drivers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Keolis has refused to reinstate her or modify policies. At last report, at least thirteen Foothill Transit operators had become infected with COVID-19.
"Maybe we should re-name the disease KEOLIS-19," Watson suggested.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County is comprised of Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson, Washoe County Commissioners Vaughn Hartung and Bob Lucey; Reno City Councilmembers Oscar Delgado and Neoma Jardon, board chair. Mr. Delgado and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19 last month. He is currently CEO of the Community Health Alliance of Washoe County.
Henderson Mayor Debra March chairs the Southern Nevada RTC. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman also sits on the southern Nevada board along with LV Mayor Pro-Tem Stavros Anthony, Clark County Commissioners Justin Jones and Tick Segerblom, North Las Vegas Councilmember Isaac Baron, Boulder City Mayor Kiernan McManus and Mesquite Councilmember George Gault. [E-mail SNRTC Public Information Director Erik Pappa]
Supporting photos, documents, references and archives may be accessed at NevadaLabor.com/
Chartered in 1934, Teamsters Local 533 represents about 2,200 workers in various trades throughout northern Nevada and eastern California.
Chartered in 1992, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1637 represents about 800 workers in southern Nevada.
Our Toothless Mask Mandates
By Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal / The New York Times op-ed 10-1-2020
A former big city ER physician, Dr. Rosenthal is an ex-NYT journalist who is now editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News. Her 2017 book "An American Sickness: How health care became big business and how you can take it back" is still the single best encapsulation of how to fix the broken US system. (For a film on some of its best suggestions, get Michael Moore's 2007 "Sicko.") Dr. Rosenthal's latest Times piece notes that law enforcement officials refusing to enforce gubernatorial mandates in Ohio and Wisconsin are creating "a new level of lawlessness." Ditto Nevada. Two of our Cow County sheriffs have announced the same thing, as has our Reno-Sparks-Washoe turkey. Ditto the Reno Police Dept. "Not our job." And our infection rate increases accordingly. What a country.
"Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" Chico Marx disguised as Groucho Marx in "Duck Soup" (1933)
Stifling incentive while endangering everyone
The above bulletins to drivers were sent on 12-17-2020
"We are not allowed to enforce masks, nor can we bring our own sanitizer. These messages were sent by management to the buses today. We have to let them ride maskless and cannot clean up. Management has given no supplies so we are stuck."
While the deadly comedy of errors continues at today's Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County meeting, here are accurate reports from drivers on the front lines. Despite continuing retaliation by management, these signed comments have been submitted by drivers to the commission for its 12-18-2020 meeting. Mr. Locke refers to a transit system management response demanded last week by Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Dear Board Members:
I am a driver for the RIDE bus system here in the great City of Reno. The letter that (RTC Executive Director) Mr. Thomas has sent to the elected officials of Reno is misleading. I personally can tell you that Keolis is not doing all they can do to protect its drivers or customers. Yes, they wipe the buses down during the day but they only wipe each bus 2 times a day, once in the morning, and that is from about 6 am to about 10am roughly, and then again at about 1 pm to about 4pm. Nothing at night and that just is not enough to keep people safe.
As for masks and/or face coverings, we are still not allowed to enforce that at all. We have been told we can be fired if we refuse service to anyone at all. So just to say that Keolis is doing everything they can is a lie from the get-go and to say they have extra buses out there for when they get packed is another lie. They have the people, they just don't use them. There are so many of us that are afraid to even come to work and if we get tested and show up positive, they only give 22 hours of extra pay and that's after we have used all over our sick, vacation and floating holiday pay and that is wrong as well.
They are doing the least amount to protect drivers or customers and Mr. Hassan sits in an office all day and has no clue what is going on with the buses or drivers. In my opinion, he is looking to save money and not care about what is going on with drivers or customers and in an interview, he downright blamed drivers for bringing the Covid 19 to work from their families. That is a very low way to go.
John Locke (driver)
Re: RTC/Keolis drivers and COVID/ OSHA concerns
To whom it may concern;
I am a driver in Reno for RTC/Keolis. It is becoming very concerning that our general manager is lying to the public and to public officials. I have kept a tally everyday on my bus, on the back of my daily report, on how many people ride my bus for each trip and how many are non-mask compliant at the fare box. I also hit the camera as supporting evidence every time I have to ask to put on a mask. I average 15% non compliance every day. Enclosed are 2 images sent to all the drivers on their policy.
We are told we are not allowed to enforce people to wear masks. Now we are being told that we cannot spray our area with disinfectants to protect ourself. Also enclosed are pictures of the barriers they gave us. One is the shower curtain that we can't see through, because of wear and tear and the chemicals used to disinfect it at the end of the day. Drivers get fed up with them and the last bus I drove, had it torn down and stuffed behind the seat and I could not put it back up because they ripped it down. Couldn't ask for a bus switch out because there were no buses available. The other barrier is a pull down shade which would be great if it went all the way down but there is a 1/2- inch gap, above the farebox, that I'm exposed to a passenger less then a foot from me.
I am immuno-compromised as I have thyroid cancer and Ehrlos Danlers Syndrome. I have no options not to work or any options to protect myself besides washing my hands every hour and wearing my mask. We have had many drivers that got Covid. Our GM has publicly stated that none of them got it from work and (it) was traced back to their families. But we all talk at our work and many, many, many drivers all say they don't know who they got it from, no one in thier family had it, and they don't go anywhere but home and work and an occasional grocery run.
There is a total disconnect and breakdown of communication which is made worse by the lies of our GM and indifference to how valuable drivers lives are. I'm sure we have a minimum 30% or more drivers who are high risk for Covid and probably 50% or more who live with someone who is.
Please help us and get Keolis/ RTC to protect us. In many other areas of the country (even the same company) are doing free rides to reduce time at the farebox. The biggest help would be refusing rides to people not wearing a mask.
We are fortunate we haven't had a death yet but 2 of our drivers were in the ICU with very grave experiences.
Thank you for your time.
Letter from Teamsters Local 533 President Gary Watson to Keolis Transit RTC Washoe Manager Abul Hassan
18 December 2020
I have been provided with a message you put out yesterday at 4:13pm regarding employees bringing in personal cleaning supply items to sanitize their work areas on the buses. While I applaud you on one hand for finally taking the initiative of purchasing disinfecting supplies for your employees 10 months into the pandemic, I find it concerning for your employees that they cannot still use their own purchased supplies to disinfect their work spaces while the company is working on supplies for you to use.
The Union wants our members (and the riding public) to be safe and healthy while performing an essential service to this community all the while making Keolis a handsome yearly profit. We hope you will take their safety and health seriously and consider allowing your employees the continued use of their own supplies until you can properly provide your employees with disinfecting products.
Please provide the Union with a date by end of business today as to when Keolis will be providing disinfecting supplies to its employees and where the employees may pick up and replenish disinfecting supplies throughout their shifts.
The information is relevant to the Union and its members so that we can properly communicate with them regarding their health and safety concerns while in the employ of Keolis, along with the employees making sure their work space is properly disinfected so the riding public has safe and healthy travels.
GARY WATSON, President
Teamsters Union Local 533
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