MILWAUKEE -- Hundreds of Milwaukee County union bus drivers are on strike. That's leaving tens of thousands of commuters scrambling to make alternative plans to get to work and elsewhere.
The roughly 750 drivers walked off the job at 3 a.m. Wednesday, July 1st and began picketing at the Milwaukee County Transit System garages after contract negotiations between union leaders and transit officials broke down.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 leaders say the strike will last until Saturday.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele accuses the union of "punishing" people who rely on the buses to get around.
Union officials say one of the main obstacles to an agreement is the transit system's plans to hire retirees as part-time drivers.
It is the first strike by MCTS drivers since 1978, when union members stayed off the job for 39 days.
City of Milwaukee aldermen, Milwaukee County Supervisors and the Milwaukee County Board chairwoman have all released statements on this strike.
Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman and Alderman Russell Stamper II released a joint statement:
"The work stoppage by the Milwaukee County Transit System bus drivers may be just another news story for many across Milwaukee and the metro area, but for tens of thousands of City of Milwaukee residents it is a major, life-altering hardship.
Yes, tens of thousands of city residents rely daily on the bus to get to work and to shop, and to do everything else they need to do in the course of their day. To have the bus system shut down is not serving the public interest, and the work stoppage simply must not continue.
Bus drivers are essential public servants, and the bus system is a public service funded by taxpayers. There is no wealthy owner or group of investors involved here – it is truly the public that is feeling the pain and bearing the brunt of this calculated work stoppage.
There are some who are making the work stoppage all about Summerfest and the upcoming 4th of July weekend. But we know it is really about the negative impact on residents, and on families.
We know firsthand how badly our residents are being affected by the work stoppage because in many households (especially in the central city), not having bus transportation means not being able to get to work, it means not being able to get a child to school or child care, and not being able to get to a hospital or medical clinic for key medications and/or treatment. The stoppage is especially damaging to our economy, as our workers are struggling to get to their workplaces, and shoppers are having a hard time making it to the stores and restaurants they would normally patronize.
We understand that there are economic and compensation issues that are in play (as part of the dispute), and we are not taking sides here. But we believe the work dispute of the drivers should never have come to this point, and it is time for the stoppage to end so that a large portion of Milwaukee residents can resume their normal daily routines."
Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr. (who chairs the Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee) issued this statement:
“We don’t want to hurt the taxpayers, but we also don’t want to hurt the hard-working people who need to get to work and students who need to get to school,” said Mayo, chairman of the Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee. “It is crucial that both parties return to the bargaining table immediately and end this strike. Twenty four hours is enough to make a point, now let’s negotiate a deal and end this strike, which has already been catastrophic to hard-working people who need to get to work. It also hurts the disabled who can’t get to the doctor, therapy and other vital destinations.”
Dimitrijevic questioned whether the County Executive’s administration could have prevented the service shutdown.
“After the Administration's failed attempt for an out-of-state for-profit company to manage our transit system, the County Board successfully acted to bring greater direct accountability to the Milwaukee County Transit System,” Dimitrijevic said. “The Transit system reports directly to the County Executive's Administration.
“Could the County Executive have prevented this service shutdown by stepping in with a fair compromise? What is his plan to end this failure as soon as possible so county residents can get to work and ride safely to and from Summerfest. We need real leadership and management now more than ever.
“We still don't even have an Airport Director. It's clear he's spent a great deal of time in Madison. This failure to lead at home hurts the local economy, our tourism industry, and I'm concerned this may put our residents at risk during Summerfest.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. issued this statement:
Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan, Jr., said today that County Executive Chris Abele has failed taxpayers and working Milwaukeeans by not coming to terms with Milwaukee County bus drivers and their union. The result, he said, is a strike.
“Abele’s anti-worker demands have led to a strike by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, which represents Milwaukee County Transit workers,” Weishan said. “The work stoppage is a result of the County Executive’s demand for unrealistic cuts to healthcare and retirement benefits along with a failure to address working conditions and the use of part-time employees.
“Milwaukee County Transit workers provide a vital service to the citizens of Milwaukee County, getting people to work and school as well as everyday tasks like going to the grocery store or church on Sunday.”
Weishan said that people of all means rely on the transit system, and Abele’s failure to understand the working conditions of transit employees and the critical service they provide to our economy has led to the strike.
“It’s easy for Abele to demean the work that these employees provide as he rides around in his expensive, chauffeured SUV, but for the average person in Milwaukee County this arrogance only leaves them without a ride to work.
“Now is the time to make a respectful offer, one that reflects the importance that transit play in our economy and shows the respect to the hardworking people that provide this vital service.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander issued this statement:
“The Milwaukee County Board has been very supportive of our bus system and driver concerns. Hearing that ATU leaders cut off service to the community and then placed blame for this discomfort on elected officials is irritating—it was the union that pulled that trigger.
This is a major public safety concern and I can hardly believe that the ATU would choose to take the thousands of people drinking at Summerfest hostage during this strike, increasing the risk that those who can’t find a bus they are accustomed to relying on, may get behind the wheel.
I encourage the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to commit special attention to highway safety during this strike and I am grateful that taxicabs and rideshare services Uber and Lyft have committed to pick up the slack while the ATU punches off the clock to hold a temper tantrum.
Further, the working poor, disabled, and senior citizens totally dependent on public transit to get to work and make ends meet will bear the true punishment doled out by the ATU during this strike. Workers will face lost wages and potentially lost jobs when they can’t get to work. I am glad to hear that some churches and community organizations are stepping in to provide transportation where the ATU is leaving Milwaukee stranded.
This service stoppage also creates a critical revenue loss that could have funded some of the pay increases the ATU is demanding from MCTS. The ATU’s demands for about $8 million more in wages over two years would essentially require the County to raise taxes to the fullest extent allowed by law and then to direct 100 percent of the increase to that extorted expense.
We should all be focused on providing safe, efficient public transit to love and I am very disappointed that the ATU has chosen to hurt transit riders just to further their bargaining position, as if management has not been making a good faith effort to reach a position both sides can agree to.
The County Board, the County Executive, and MCTS management all respect bus drivers and support our transit system, and I look forward to hearing when a deal has been reached so we can be assured the ATU will no longer be directing workers off the job.”
Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan issued this statement:
"The overwhelming majority of Milwaukee County Transit System riders are city residents who rely on the bus to get to work, to school, and to the doctor. This fact makes it absolutely necessary for the mayor to get involved in helping end the bus driver work stoppage.
Yes, the work stoppage is disproportionately impacting residents of Milwaukee, and I might point out that the people being impacted are those who can least afford to be impacted!
This morning I had the opportunity to meet with some of the bus drivers, and I’ve been around long enough to know that there are two sides to every story. But I am calling on the mayor to step in and provide the leadership necessary to bring the work stoppage to an end as quickly as possible.
If it were up to me, I would call both sides into my office, lock the door, and no one would leave until we ironed out an agreement.
Obviously, the work stoppage is negatively impacting our economy, and the timing couldn’t be worse for Summerfest attendees and workers.
But I am concerned for the little guy in this whole scenario – workers, seniors, and children who are just trying to live their lives on a daily basis. The ability to get to where they need to be must be restored, and as soon as possible.
So Mr. Mayor, here’s your chance to show some leadership – so don’t miss the bus!"
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has issued this statement:
"The hardworking men and women of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO stand in solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 and call upon County Executive Chris Abele to settle the contract immediately. Bus drivers who consistently work long hours day and night to provide safe, quality transportation in Milwaukee have waited long enough for a fair contract. We are proud to join in solidarity with transit workers who are standing up for family-supporting full-time jobs, good benefits, and decent working conditions in order to deliver high-quality bus services to Milwaukee County residents.
It is time that we all come together to stop the conversion of family-supporting full-time jobs to part-time positions. This dangerous race to the bottom for wages and benefits is the wrong direction for Wisconsin. County Executive Chris Abele should put the best interest of all of Milwaukee County first and settle the contract without delay."
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.
This strike includes MCTS Route 143 that serves Ozaukee County and MCTS Route 6, 61 and 279 that serve Waukesha and Washington Counties.
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
CLICK HERE for further coverage of the transit strike via FOX6Now.com.