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Recap: Second RTC bus strike is over, but labor negotiations continue

A group of nine protestors huddle together holding signs in support of a bus strike.
Our Town Reno
Since August, there have been two recent bus strikes in Reno tied to stalled labor negotiations that have led to transit disruptions for community members.

The bus strike in Washoe County ended Tuesday in what has been a lengthy ordeal for the community. KUNR News Director Michelle Billman checked in with Shelby Herbert, a reporter from the Hitchcock Project, who spent the last few weeks covering the picket line.  

Michelle Billman: Shelby, can you tell us more about the cause for this strike?

Shelby Herbert: Yeah, so, there was a pretty significant breakdown between those teamsters that represent the local transit workers and then that third-party multinational company — Keolis — that the city has contracted to manage public transit. You know, I encountered a pretty wide variety of complaints, but the most common thread was that Keolis removed senior drivers’ bidding rights for shifts, which would have limited their ability to schedule their workday around family and elder care. The most common refrain was, “The buses won't run until the contract is done.” 

Billman: And, Shelby, you spent a fair amount of time talking to folks at the strike. What was that like and what did you learn about the impacts this disruption has had on our community?

Herbert: Yeah, Michelle, I saw about a couple dozen bus drivers at any given time, just kind of camped out at that Fourth Street corner near the bus station. They seemed to be getting a lot of community support. There were a lot of people passing by, just laying on the horn. The Amtrak train that would pass by that station, who are actually represented by the same union, would blare their horn as well just to show support for the folks who were showing up out there. Every time I was out there, it was bitterly cold, but spirits seemed to be in good shape. 

But, yeah, I spoke to a few senior drivers who told me that a lot of their passengers are either casino employees or UNR students. I think it’s fair to say there were a lot of classes missed and a lot of late shifts attended, not even to mention the safety concerns with people who would normally use this service to commute but [were] commuting by foot.

This long absence of regular service also impacted the lives of community members with mobility issues. At the latest city council meeting, Ron Dalton expressed his frustration with the situation.

“I’ve been talking to hundreds of people here lately who are veterans and seniors, and not only veterans but just seniors in general who are handicapped, and this is hurting our society and community right now,” Dalton said during a public comment period for Reno City Council on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. 

That’s far from the only complaint I heard at this city council meeting, and I think it’s pretty fair to say that the people who rely on this service have been negatively impacted by this protracted strike. 

Billman: Well, and now that this strike is over, what’s next?

Herbert: So, right now, negotiations are continuing until a collective bargaining agreement has been finalized; however, the RTC is back to full service. The other thing I wanted to mention is that the RTC had announced earlier this month that it was anticipating some service cuts next year due to labor shortages, so I talked to RTC spokesperson Lauren Ball and she gave us the latest update on that.

“These were potential plans that we are going to put in place if we weren’t able to find enough staff through our contractors to run our bus system, so we’re just going to kind of see how it goes,” Ball said. “We’re hearing from our contractors that they are having recruitment successes. They have some bonuses in place right now to bring more people on board, so we’re hopeful that we don’t have to make any of these changes going forward, so right now, they’re on hold.”

The key takeaway from my time spent covering this issue is that this is far from over. What we’re seeing right now is the second strike since August, and it really falls into the greater trend of labor action across the United States, and a lot of household names are involved in this. Employees from a wide variety of industries from Kellogg’s to John Deere to IATSE in the entertainment industry, they’re grappling with their working conditions, and the national worker shortages make this situation all the more challenging. 

These issues are compounding and that’s what we’re seeing at the local level now, so we’re really going to have to wait and see if everyone’s going to come to the table and if the recruitment strategies Lauren talked about are going to work. In any case, this is definitely labor’s moment.  

Billman: Well, we’ll have to leave it here. Shelby, thanks for sharing the latest on this ongoing situation.

That was KUNR News Director Michelle Billman speaking with Shelby Herbert, a reporter for the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Shelby Herbert is a graduate student of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. She’s a reporter for the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science and covers regional science news.
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