The Teamsters Union Local 533, which according to strike trustee members has voted almost unanimously to strike, and the RTC RIDE system, managed by Transit Management of Washoe, Inc., are facing the end of their three-year contract Thursday, with both sides trying to push for contract revisions.
Mark Tracy, the secretary-treasurer for local Teamsters, said he is prepared to fight for drivers' rights as he has been working on such negotiations since 1996. Tracy, however, will not say if a strike is to be expected.
"A strike is very possible any time after midnight (Wednesday night)," Tracy said. "It's almost like they're trying to get us to strike anyway."
Ongoing negotiations leading to the end of the current contract have been held in recent weeks. A federal mediator was called in for such talks on May 15 and June 7. No significant progress was made at these talks, Tracy said.
"All we (Teamsters) would like to see is some honest and up-front negotiations," Tracy said. "We haven't seen any yet."
Major issues concerning contract revisions include RTC RIDE's push to rewrite work rules, reducing the number of months for leave of absence and the denial of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a full holiday schedule, Tracy said.
"They are trying to take away the rights of the employees," Tracy said.
The Teamsters represents more than 150 RTC RIDE drivers.
Mike Steele, manager of RTC RIDE who has been involved heavily in contract negotiations, said he hopes a strike can be avoided. Much of the Teamsters’ requests are not financially feasible with the current poor state of the economy, he said.
"Of course, no one wants to strike," Steele said. "We have presented our final contract proposal and will continue negotiations if we need to."
In regards to RTC RIDE's proposal to allow work rules to be written by RTC, Steele said it is for efficiency sake.
"Our current work rules have not served well," Steel said. "We need rules that will maintain the efficiency that we need and since it is a three-year contract, I need to be able to respond in between negotiation periods."
Other contract issues include pension pay and wages.
Tracy has scheduled two Teamsters meetings for Sunday at 10 a.m. and at 3:30 p.m. He said he hopes to go over RTC's proposed contract at the meetings and discuss options, including a bus strike across the Reno/Sparks area if necessary.
Such a strike would affect the free shuttle services provided at Farmer's Market, which starts today, Tracy said.
The Teamsters has called for similar bus strikes in the past, the most recent being in 2002, which lasted several weeks.
Tracy said he ultimately hopes that the current work rules are not revised as they were originally agreed upon by the union and RTC RIDE in 1996.
And while a strike is drastic, Tracy said the union is prepared for anything.
"If we strike, we will shut them down until the whole issue is resolved," Tracy said. "We will do whatever it takes."