Striking workers and Citifare passengers prepare for the long haul.

Photo By David Robert

“Scabs suck.”

The line of pacing picketers shout epithets at the arriving buses down at CitiCenter terminal in downtown Reno. Tempers are somewhat cooled from yesterday, when angry words between a frustrated passenger and a striking worker erupted in a shoving match. No charges were filed.

It’s Tuesday, the morning of the third day of the Citifare strike, which began on Aug. 4, and passengers are already making adjustments, finding alternative methods of getting around.

“Yesterday, there were thousands waiting, not at one time but throughout the day, but today there’s only a few people here and there,” says Eileen Wiley, a striking customer service representative for Citifare and shop steward with Teamsters Local 533. There were about 30 people waiting at the main downtown station.

Citifare workers are mainly striking for higher wages. They claim that salaries have not kept up with the cost of living, and rising insurance costs actually have them making less than they have in years past.

A new, untrained driver makes a training wage of $8 an hour, according to Jim McGrath, Regional Transportation Commission public information officer.

A beginning, fully licensed driver makes about $11.62. Drivers top out at $15.42 per hour. There are also bonuses for safety and getting to stops on time. While RTC “owns” the bus lines, Transit Authority of Washoe manages the system. The final offer made by Transit Authority of Washoe would reportedly raise the starting wage 6 percent over three years, to $12.33 and top out at $16.36.

McGrath also points out that Citifare’s operations funding is limited to the proceeds of a one-half cent Washoe County sales tax and the income from fare boxes. Fares only account for 40 percent of the operating budget. The federal government picks up capital expenditures, like new buses, buildings or bus washers.

Many waiting customers aren’t sanguine about the uncertainty of catching a bus. A hardhat-wearing construction worker stands over his bicycle, contemplating the pros and cons of waiting for a bus or taking a 20-minute ride down Fourth Street to Victorian Avenue to his job near John Ascuaga’s Nugget. For the moment, he’s going to wait for a ride. He’s pretty sure he’s going to be late either way.

A couple of Polish students from the University of Nevada, Reno, are plainly angered by the delays and the costs they’ve accrued when their only cheap, reliable method of transportation became a lot less reliable.

“We spent $24 on taxis yesterday, we can’t afford that,” says one, who asked that his name not be used. “We paid $40 for a bus pass a week ago. They should refund the money for the bus passes.”

Faine O’Neill, a temp-job worker, says he was aware the strike was going on, but, although he was on his way to pick up a paycheck, he wasn’t in any hurry.

“Are you kidding?” he says. “This is great. Free bus rides. My bus pass ran out and I didn’t have $15 for a new one.”

Rides will remain free until Citifare reaches the level of service normally provided on Sundays.

O’Neill says he supports the strikers.

“I’d do the same thing if I weren’t making enough money, and I was a member of a union,” he says.

Citifare Transit Manager Michael Steele says the reason the Transit Authority hasn’t simply acquiesced to the employees’ demands is simple—they can’t.

“We have financial constraints,” he says.

It’s one of those rock-and-hard-place arguments that’ll be likely to have managers pulling their hair out and striking drivers cooling their heels for a while.

Wiley says that if the strike drags on, people will become more accustomed to not riding the bus. She says the union is prepared to be on strike for up to six weeks—maybe even longer. This is only the second strike she’s seen in her 19 years with the company—the first was on July 26, when the union workers walked out for seven hours, after a judge ruled their contract had ended on June 11. Most employees support the strike, although Wiley says there are seven non-union workers still driving, and, strangely enough, a union driver who has crossed the picket lines.

“People are upset, and we’re sorry about that," says Wiley. "We have to do what we have to do. It would help if [everybody] would come back to the table."