MCTS union spokesman: 96.4% of members vote YES, call for strike if needed

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County Transit  union workers voted Tuesday, June 16th on whether to go on strike. They've been working without a contract for more than two months.

An Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 spokesman tells FOX6 News 96.4% of union members who voted during Tuesday's strike vote voted YES. That would give them the authority to call for a strike if contract negotiations fall through -- knowing union members are behind them.

"Over the years we`ve been giving, giving, giving, so now we want something. We`re not being greedy -- we just want something," Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 President James Macon said.

The Local 998 union is in the midst of contract negotiations with Milwaukee County. If they can't reach a deal, they could strike, and that could affect buses in Milwaukee County.

"Well, you know what a strike means. I`m not going to get into detail. Everyone knows what a strike means," Macon said.

A strike would affect Leroy Doyle, who volunteers five days a week helping those who are mentally ill.

"I basically take the bus every day. Without that, I don't have a way to get from A to B," Doyle said.

"All we want is a fair contract," Macon said.

"Tens of thousands of people rely on us to get to work, to school, and we have to have a sustainable system. At some point we need to find a way to make the system sustainable for people to rely on," MCTS spokesman Brendan Conway said.

Macon says 98% of transit workers are union members. They've been working without a new contract for two months, but we're told that's not unusual. Union leaders say they're not talking to the right people.

"We`re talking to MCTS. When we are talking to them, they can`t make any decisions. They have to talk to somebody else," Local 998 Vice President Rick Bassler said.

"If MCTS had a chance to negotiate with us maybe it would go smooth, but the county is dictating everything and that`s the problem," Macon said.

So what's stalling the negotiations?

Based on a letter from Macon to Milwaukee County supervisors, the sticking points seem to be wages, pensions, insurance and working conditions.

"We also get disciplined if we're running late for a layover or when we leave late because we took a bathroom break. We get disciplined. And why should you get disciplined for a human bodily function that you have to do? There`s no need," Sharon Lewis, an MCTS bus driver said.

"Over the years we`ve gave up a lot to get our insurance low, and now they trying to jack it up. And also our pension was pretty much changed major. Right now they`re trying to make us retire at later years and we just did that last year," Macon said.

Brendan Conway, a spokesman for MCTS says the contract offered to the union is fair. The average driver, including overtime, already makes more than $62,000 per year with benefits and a pension. Conway says the new contract includes a raise and keeps benefits, but MCTS is asking the union to raise the number of years it takes to earn a full pension.

"People can work at MCTS for 27 years, and retire with their full pension. So that means people could start at 21 and retire at 48 years old. We're asking them to maybe reconsider that and ask them to change that number," Conway said.

Bus drivers say MCTS wants to raise their health insurance costs and hire part-time workers, something they're vehemently opposed to. They're also asking for longer bathroom breaks.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 has more than 1,000 members. They're part of the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the U.S. and Canada. It is composed of bus drivers, light rail operators, maintenance and clerical personnel.

It's unclear when a possible strike could take place.

"I guess they got to do what they got to do, but we depend on the bus to get us where we gotta go. So that would hurt a lot of people," Doyle said.

We do know that negotiations are expected to pick back up on June 26th -- Day 3 of Summerfest, when the MCTS buses are in especially high demand. Negotiations began in February.

Monitor FOX6 News and for updates on this developing story.