Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition

NEJC on transit bill signed into law by Gov Lombardo

Members of Teamsters Local 533 this week said that a bill signed into law by Gov. Joe Lombardo will give them a voice at the table when it comes to public transit and improve safety for riders and drivers. They also said it was inspired by the actions of Washoe County’s Regional Transportation Commission, which they said has repeatedly ignored worker input.

“Inspiration for this bill came from the RTC Washoe’s hands-off approach to the transit system, while the true transit experts – the workers and passengers – were forced to the back of the bus,” Gary Watson, president of Local 533. 

Teamsters Local 533 represents about 220 transit employees who work for Keolis, a France-based for-profit contracted by RTC Washoe, along with more than 2,000 other trades workers in northern Nevada. 

Assembly Bill 214 passed with bipartisan support making a number of changes to regional transportation requirements and addressing issues union members have raised repeatedly, including during several strikes in 2021

Following those strikes, Teamsters members, local labor council officials and Assemblywoman Natha Anderson worked together to craft the bill. 

Among the changes, fines can be imposed on riders who refuse to comply with health and safety mandates, such as the COVID-19 mask mandate that drivers were unable to enforce. Transportation commissions must also retain video and audio recordings used as evidence in disciplinary actions and provide them to the employee’s union.

“In recent years assaults on our bus drivers have increased, and prior to this, footage was only being saved for 24 to 48 hours in some cases,” Debbie Calkins, Local 533 secretary-treasurer, said. “This is  a big step in helping to prevent and stop assaults on our drivers.”

The new law also requires Washoe County to create an advisory committee that includes transit employees who are members of the union along with community members. The committee is charged with making policy recommendations to transit authorities. 

Clark County was already required to have an advisory committee, called the Transportation Resource Advisory Committee or TRAC, but the law extends the requirements to counties with a population of at least 100,000 – Washoe County. 

“Before the passage of this bill, RTC Washoe relied heavily upon internal staff and their foreign-for-profit contractor’s input,” Watson said. The two organizations – RTC and Keolis – also collaborated closely on responses to union strikes

“This approach was flawed, as neither utilize our transit system, nor encounter real-time frustrations of using transit. Now with the TRAC committee, local workers will be, and passengers can be appointed to the committee to make recommendations to the RTC board,” Watson said. “Having these expert voices on the TRAC committee will help ensure public transit is more sustainable in our region and for future years to come.”

Beyond the labor implications, Olivia Tanager, an advocate who testified in favor of the bill on behalf of Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition (NEJC), said she hopes the bill is a step toward achieving environmental justice in Nevada.

“The NEJC was founded based on concerns on how our cities and areas of the state of Nevada were being developed, including making public transportation accessible and usable,” Tanager said. “We know that Reno is the fastest warming city in the nation, Las Vegas is the second, and public transportation is an instrumental part to fighting the ongoing climate crisis. AB214 will ensure that Washoe County…has an advisory committee to provide advice to the Regional Transportation Commission on issues such as benches, bus shelters and shade, and transit stops. This will allow the public a greater opportunity for input into how their transit system operates.”

Washoe RTC did not file opposition to the bill as it made its way through the legislature.