9 April 2021

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

TEAMSTERS: Governor must not risk pandemic management by Washoe officials
"A pattern of intentional and malign neglect"

RENO, NV (4-9-2021) — Two days after warning of Washoe County's first transit strike in two decades, Teamsters Union Local 533 has cautioned Gov. Steve Sisolak against yielding control of pandemic response to Washoe County Commissioners.

Gary Watson, President
Teamsters Union Local 533

"Commissioners Bob Lucey and Vaughn Hartung now advocate for repeal of mask mandates just when Nevada cases are beginning to surge again," stated Local 533 President Gary Watson.

"Over the past year, their conduct has followed a pattern of intentional and malign neglect," Watson added.

"They have ignored their superspreader bus system and let their subordinates do whatever they please," the longtime labor leader said.

Friday brought news reports that Nevada has seen its biggest increase in COVID cases in nearly a month and a new, more virulent Brazilian variant has been identified in the state.

The union represents RTC Ride operators and support staff and has filed almost 100 federal and state charges of safety and workers' rights violations against the system. More than two dozen bus operators have been sickened, two admitted to intensive care. Two Las Vegas African-American woman drivers lie dead.

"Our hopes were raised last Wednesday when I met with Regional Transportation Commission Executive Director Bill Thomas on the same day the Reno Gazette-Journal published the union's guest editorial documenting RTC's intentional violation of safety standards," Watson stated.

On Thursday morning, RTC's for-profit contractor sent a memo to drivers ordering enforcement of the governor and the president's mask mandates: "Per RTC home office, passengers are required to wear a mask while on bus. If they say they are exempt, they must show a formal documentation from their health care provider."

"But the maskless must still be allowed to board, a distinction without a difference," Watson said.

A Friday followup to Watson from foreign-owned management contractor Keolis Transit stated "Operators cannot refuse passengers to board the bus. Operators are to keep the bus moving and call dispatch to have a road supervisor meet it on route, or if they are close to a station, dispatchers will call security. It is critical for the operators' safety not to confront the passengers and let security or road supervisors handle the situation."

"Road supervisors are unavailable and now drive buses," Watson said, "and RTC has refused to let their security staff become involved. Now, they have been thrown into the fray with little notice or training," he added. Security staff are only available at two downtown switching stations, one in Reno and one in Sparks.

"We are very alarmed that Washoe County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday to take control of local safety when Mssrs. Lucey and Hartung have demonstrably endangered public safety during the entire pandemic," Watson said.

Only County Commissioner Jeanne Herman (R) voted against the county takeover.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) is comprised of Reno City Councilmembers Neoma Jardon (R-RTC chair), and Oscar Delgado (D); Washoe County Commissioners Hartung (R) and Lucey (R) and Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson (R). [CONTACT]

Chartered in 1934, Teamsters Local 533 represents about 2,200 workers in various trades throughout northern Nevada, eastern California and the Tahoe Basin.

Links, references and history, including the 2002 transit strike, may be accessed via

Officials risk first bus strike in almost 20 years 4-6-2021 / Reno Gazette-Journal 4-7-2021
By Debbie Calkins and Gary Watson

In less than three months, Washoe County may find itself with a crippled mass transit system.

Debbie Calkins
Secretary-Treasurer & Principal Officer
She is the first woman to head the union.

RTC Ride bus operators and support staff risk their lives serving more than 20,000 riders a day. Unfortunately, elected officials and an unaccountable bureaucracy have allowed the system to become a COVID-19 superspreader.

Because of intentionally lax safety standards, more than two dozen Washoe drivers and very probably more have been infected. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) and its for-profit management contractor, Keolis Transit, withhold such information and much more despite our union contract.

RTC's bureaucracy has committed wholesale illegal, unfair labor practices and health violations. They even threatened a federal arbitrator and must be held accountable.

At least two local bus operators have been hospitalized in ICUs. Two African-American women drivers in Las Vegas lie dead. In southern California, Keolis fired an African-American woman who was recovering from breast cancer surgery. Still on chemotherapy, her immune system was suppressed. She thus asked a passenger to don a mask and was fired.

Teamsters Local 533 is constantly fighting similar "disciplinary actions" here.

France-based Keolis hired "permanent temps" in several states including Nevada. After 90 days, they were mandated to become fully compensated employees but were not. Worse, the temp subcontractor was owned by the wife of Keolis' former Reno general manager, Abul Hassan.

RTC's media machine sends out press releases and buys expensive TV ads bragging that they are "99.9 percent compliant" with safety standards. Do any of the five elected RTC commissioners (Neoma Jardon, Vaughn Hartung, Bob Lucey, Oscar Delgado and Ed Lawson) ever take a bus ride?

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 last June 26: "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.)

John Mayer, a former Sparks Councilman and RTC member, and current Reno Councilmember Jenny Brekhus have advocated for outsourcing to end and bring accountability home.

Teamsters Local 533 and the Reno-Sparks NAACP have long decried non-enforcement of Gov. Sisolak's (and later, President Biden's) mask and distancing mandates by Keolis. RTC's board and management simply ignored.

The union has filed more than 70 health, safety and workplace complaints before federal agencies and actions in U.S. District Court. Keolis has used them to stonewall and delay, typical union busting, pushing toward a strike.

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 our union contract. Why won't RTC let us 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 us that Keolis swept much of the rest directly to corporate profit.

In June, 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.

By then, we may not have a bus system to argue about. Our union contract expires at the same time.

A perfect storm looms in June and only concerted action by elected RTC officials can mitigate the potential damage.

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

Debbie Calkins is the first woman chief executive officer of Teamsters Union Local 533. Gary Watson serves as the union's president.

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 in December. He is currently CEO of the Community Health Alliance of Washoe County.

Supporting photos, documents, references and archives may be accessed at

Chartered in 1934, Teamsters Local 533 represents about 2,200 workers in various trades throughout northern Nevada and eastern California.


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

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