By Vincent Cross
Around 200 bus drivers for the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC-Washoe), which includes the city of Reno, went on strike August 3 after the private contractor for RTC-Washoe threatened cuts to drivers’ healthcare during ongoing contract negotiations.
The strike was authorized by Teamsters Local 533, which represents the drivers, as early as July 1. In the weeks leading up to the strike, hundreds of rides had been cancelled as drivers called in sick en masse to protest the threatened cuts.
While RTC-Washoe is technically a public agency run by the government of Washoe County, the actual management of the day-to-day operations of buses is contracted out to a private corporation: Kealis North America. According to a statement by the Teamsters, in negotiations with drivers Kealis has attempted to place clauses in a new contract which would allow Kealis to switch workers to a cheaper and worse plan “within 60 days’ notice.” Kealis also wants to contribute less money to workers’ current health plans and force the union to make up the difference.
Many so-called ‘public services’ in the United States are actually managed by capitalist companies the government pays and contracts to administer them. The line between these ‘public’ transportation authorities and the private companies who run them is often blurry. For example, even though RTC-Washoe considers itself ‘neutral’ during negotiations, it has parroted Kealis’s position that the union is negotiating in “bad faith” and has gone so far as to call the police on drivers for “trespassing” this past Tuesday as they picketed outside a bus station.
Kealis, a private corporation which runs and controls dozens of local public transportation services throughout the US and Canada, is itself controlled and owned jointly by the French and Quebec governments.
Public transportation workers in many areas where Kealis operates have complained that the company won’t pay overtime, is constantly cutting workers’ healthcare coverage, and endangers their workers by not enforcing COVID safety guidelines. Striking bus drivers in Washoe County have said that Kealis often will not put sufficient drivers on shift, causing transportation delays or service gaps, and that the company follows the policy of “cut corners, cut services, don’t pay overtime.”
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