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Amid Labor Shortage, Reno Transit Recruits New Drivers

A Keolis recruitment booth with signs and balloons advertising the new hiring initiative.
Shelby Herbert
KUNR Public Radio
A Keolis recruitment booth at a job fair in Reno in January of 2020.

Reno's bus drivers have returned to work, but the Local 533 Teamsters Union remains vigilant against what they call "unfair labor practices." Meanwhile, Keolis pushes to recruit more employees.

Host: Last year, Reno endured three paralyzing bus driver strikes. Though the drivers have since returned to work, the city transit system is still struggling to find and retain enough employees to meet the needs of the community. KUNR News Director Michelle Billman checked in with reporter Shelby Herbert for an update.

Michelle Billman: So, Shelby, you’ve been following this labor conflict for several months now, and we know that both parties have now agreed to a three-year contract. Can you tell us more about what that contract entails?

Shelby Herbert: Yeah, Michelle, so this new contract includes a wage increase of about five-and-a-half percent — and that’s in the first year, which is definitely an improvement on the previous proposals Keolis has made — and that’s the company that manages these drivers. But the teamsters say this is still below the estimated Consumer Price Index of our region. Even though that’s not exactly what they were hoping for, Union President Gary Watson confirmed that this agreement will basically eliminate the need for further of what he called, “harmful and repetitive strikes.”

Michelle: And, so, they’ve come to an agreement, but at the same time, through your reporting, you’re finding that the situation is still precarious. Shelby, can you take us through what some of these lingering issues are?

Shelby: So, this three-year contract was overwhelmingly approved by union membership, but Teamsters 533 is definitely staying vigilant, and that’s according to Union Vice President, Chris Fuqua. He’s claiming that drivers who participated in these strikes have been threatened with retaliation, and that Keolis basically told them when they didn’t come back to work during the demonstrations, they forfeited their bonus. According to Keolis spokesperson Phil Pumphrey, however, those sign-on bonuses are currently in place.

Michelle: Along with these really elongated conflicts between the union and Keolis, there's also a driver shortage. Can you tell us more about that issue?

Shelby: So, just this last week, I stopped by a Keolis job fair at the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, and this is part of a new initiative to recruit drivers for this Truckee Meadows transit territory. I learned that successful candidates are eligible for paid training and a starting pay rate of roughly $20, and, of course, that $2,000 sign-on bonus. Right now, they’re seeking out about 40 new drivers to pick up the slack.

Michelle: Well, we’ll have to leave it there. Shelby, thank you for your ongoing coverage of this important topic.

Shelby: Thank you, Michelle.

Michelle: For KUNR News, I’m Michelle Billman, and I’ve been speaking with Shelby Herbert. She’s a reporter for the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Shelby Herbert is a former student reporter at KUNR Public Radio and the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science.