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RTC bus union votes to strike amid contractor negotiations
RTC bus union votes to strike amid contractor negotiations

Thousands of Washoe County residents could soon be left without a ride. 

Teamster Local 533, the union that represents the county's bus drivers has voted to strike after the collective bargaining agreement with the transportation agency's contractor, Keolis, expired.  It affects more than 200 employees.

While drivers have not gone on strike yet, the vote allows union leadership to call for a work stoppage at any point. Michael Ake, Regional Vice President of Operations for Keolis Transit America, said if the union chooses to organize, riders can expect some changes to their daily commute.

We may have to go to some reduced level of service, said Ake.

"We will have to increase our presence at bus stops to provide information to passengers but if and when there is a strike, is completely up to the union."

Ake claims it has been difficult to negotiate a deal with the union. He accused the union of cancelling two of the scheduled negotiating sessions and not responding to daily attempts to contact them. 

"We're struggling," he said. "What we need is to sit at the table and discuss and I know we can come to an agreement but you can't do it by yourself - I got to have the union at the table with me."

News4 reached out multiple times to set-up an interview with Teamster Local 533 president Gary Watson -- however, he was unavailable. 

Ake confirmed Keolis' latest offer includes a 3% pay raise for drivers for the next two years. The transit company is also asking to void the current corporate policy that was negotiated under RTC Washoe's previous contractor. This includes attendance, alcohol and drug policies.

"It makes no sense for that to be in a collective bargaining agreement - that's an employee handbook issue," he said. "We want to get all of that out and reference our corporate policies." 

With negotiations at a stand still, some Washoe County residents fear a strike could impact their ability to get to work. 

"It's definitely going to impact my life," said Aurelio Benavides, a Sparks resident who uses the bus every day to get to work.

I might lose my job if I don't have a bus ride because that's my only transportation right now.

While it's normal for unions to vote to strike, Ake hopes they can come to an agreement before impacting the public. 

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