MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County bus drivers wrapped up the third day of their strike -- and returned to work on Saturday, July 4th. But union officials say there are still a number of issues preventing them from accepting a deal.
Union President James Macon says their biggest complaint right now is the county's offer to hire more part-time drivers. He says long-term, that could weaken the union as a larger share of drivers wouldn't have the same benefits as full-time drivers.
Friday afternoon, the drivers took their strike into the street.
The only stop for Milwaukee County bus drivers is outside the Moderne building downtown, where Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele owns a condo.
Union officials say they cannot accept a contract that calls for more part-time drivers. They add, when county officials say the average driver salary is aroun $62,000, it's only because of heavy overtime that amounts to 6-day weeks for drivers.
"Why would we wanna allow this place to be part-time drivers? Right now, the union believes in someone having a living wage and benefits," said Macon.
"The whole reason we're bringing in more part-time drivers is to start relieving that overtime," said Abele.
The drivers are joined on their march by Nate Hamilton, who became a public figure after his brother, Dontre Hamilton, was killed last spring by a Milwaukee police officer.
Hamilton says he's now an advocate for working class minorities.
"This is an action that disproportionately affects poor people and people of color, what would you say to that? For us people of color, we've made sacrifices, people of color, through life and we have to continue to make sacrifices collectively to get to a better place within the economic status," said Hamilton.
The only police involvement on Friday is when a driver went through protesters blocking the street. An officer pulled over that driver.
Macon says the bus drivers will come back to work early Saturday morning.
"I apologize to my passengers, that wasn't our intent to do anything to you but we had to send a message," said Macon.
"I spend a lot of time in Madison trying to get legislators to restore the transit funding that they cut in the past, and if ATU wants to come with me on those trips to Madison, I'll drive," said Abele.
Monday, July 6th's fares, Abele says, will be the lowest possible.
"For the entire day, transit rides will be free on MCTS," Abele said.
This also garners a response from Macon.
"Since you giving everybody a free ride on Monday, I think we should be able to give it on Tuesday," said Macon.
To be clear, no one in any official capacity has promised anyone free rides on Tuesday, July 7th.
For now drivers will operate under the terms of their previous contract.
Macon says he's open to continued contract discussions, explaining that he's also open to more work stoppages.
The bus drivers strike continues through Friday -- and into tomorrow morning. The drivers are set to get back behind the wheel at 3 a.m. Saturday.
Below is a brief list of resources you may be able to tap into if buses are not on the road.
MCTS spokesman Brendan Conway says all new and updated information in the coming days will be available to the public at RideMCTS.com or by calling 414-988-5966.