Bus drivers union to hold "work stoppage," service suspended for 72 hours starting at 3 a.m.

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) officials say members of Milwaukee County's transit union have called for a strike -- and bus service will be suspended effective 3:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 1st.

Leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998

Leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 998 say they're not calling this a strike. Instead, they're calling it a "work stoppage."

"This is not a strike. It is a work stoppage. We will be conducting a work stoppage at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 for a period of three days," Rick Bassler, ATU Local 998 vice president said.

Union leaders say all ATU employees will be taking part in this "work stoppage" that will begin at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday and continue for 72 hours -- through 3:00 a.m. Saturday, July 4th. This, after transit union members and Milwaukee County representatives sat down with a federal mediator for six hours on Tuesday to try to come up with a last-minute deal to avoid a strike.

"We are not trying to stop service. The company is stopping service," James Macon, ATU Local 998 president said.

Union leaders say they were not offered a fair contract -- blaming Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who said Tuesday: "The final, added concessions represent our last, best offer. Anything more than this is unsustainable in our county budget and would be irresponsible to the taxpayers we serve."

"When push came to shove, we said 'what can we do to solve this?' They said, 'here -- you need to give us $8 million more over two years,'" MCTS spokesman Brendan Conway said.

Milwaukee County Transit System

Angry MCTS customers shouted their frustrations during a news conference held by union leaders Tuesday.

"I`m angry because we got elderly, we got people that can barely walk," Cynthia Greenwood said.

In a news release, MCTS officials said the following:

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 998 leaders have called for a work stoppage despite significant attempts and concessions from MCTS during a daylong negotiation session.

The union’s decision means tens of thousands of people who rely on MCTS to get to work, school and doctor’s appointments will have to find other transportation. The strike will also shut down Summerfest service that tens of thousands of people rely on every day to get to the Big Gig.

MCTS presented a contract proposal on Friday that would have increased bus drivers and mechanics pay in exchange for some health care concessions. The average MCTS bus driver will make more than $62,000 this year in salary and overtime.

In an attempt to avoid a strike, MCTS made significant concessions to the union, including:

  • A matching $1,000 Flexible Spending Account for employees to help offset modest increases in healthcare costs. The previous proposal was $500.

  • Capping the amount of part-time drivers MCTS will hire.

  • Some flexibility for how mechanics use their personal time.

Despite numerous recent statements from union leaders that their contract dispute was not over money, the union came to the bargaining table today to ask for $8 million in increased wages.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele issued the following statement Tuesday evening:

Although County Executive Abele is disappointed in today’s decision by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) to reject a reasonable contract offer and strike, he is confident that a deal will soon be agreed to that respects both transit workers and taxpayers.

“The Milwaukee County Transit System is a critical tool for economic development and self-sufficiency, and I am proud of our record of maintaining routes and excellent service without raising fares,” County Executive Abele said. “Taxpayers ride the bus over 150,000 times every single day. In choosing to strike, ATU is punishing County residents that rely on bus service.”

Proposed Contract Facts:

  • The average MCTS bus driver makes more than $62,000 per year in salary and overtime.

  • Between cost of living increases, pay increases, and pension contribution decreases, ATU members would see a salary increase of up to 3.3% in the first year with an additional 1% increase to base pay on top of that in the second year. Additionally, ATU members were offered a $1,000 employer matching contribution to their Flexible Spending Accounts during today’s negotiations.

  • The net compensation increase (salary and benefits) for ATU members over the next two years is $3,580 for workers with an individual healthcare plan and $2,848 for workers with a family healthcare plan.

In a time when State transportation funding has been flat and Federal funding has declined, ATU members rejected multiple contract compromises that increased overall compensation while allowing for the continuation of full transit services, stable fares, and respect for County taxpayers.

Throughout negotiations, the County has and will continue to remain focused on one outcome only – the best service for transit riders now and in the future. The emphasis is on providing a high quality transit system while modernizing and expanding services.

“From low income workers to Summerfest attendees, the ATU’s decision to strike has far reaching consequences for the people of Milwaukee County,” Abele said. “To be clear, the final added concessions today represent our last, best offer. Anything more than this is unsustainable in our County budget and would be irresponsible to the taxpayers we serve.”

Sharon Lewis is an MCTS bus driver.

"We see these people every day. We care about these people. It`s Abele that doesn`t care. They don't give a crap about the average Joe," Lewis said.

"We need to have a sustainable transit system that will continue to run for those who need it," Conway said.

Conway says MCTS attempted to offer concessions during Tuesday's mediation, but union officials walked out.

"It was the same stuff that we voted (Monday) night to vote down but they just twisted the numbers. There was no gain," Macon said.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 members rejected MCTS' latest contract offer Monday and voted to strike. Union vice president Rick Bassler says members are opposed to plans to hire part-time drivers, among other things.

MCTS officials say this is all about money.

Union leaders say they wanted to go into interest arbitration Tuesday, where an impartial arbitrator would make the final decisions, but county officials said no.

The vote Monday night was 93% to reject the new contract being offered, and 92% in favor of a strike.

MCTS has about 150,000 passenger rides a day. This is the first MCTS bus driver strike since the late 1970s.

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.

Paratransit service is available during the strike for passengers who are eligible. For questions call 343-1700 or visit http://www.ridemcts.com/programs/transit-plus

MCTS will continue to hand out the GO Pass to eligible seniors and persons with disabilities. For more on the pass please visit http://www.ridemcts.com/fares-passes/go-pass