Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

15 Myths About The Bus Strike (and More)

Bus service continuing, but union president references more potential work stoppages. What else did he say?

By - Jun 30th, 2015 03:00 pm

UPDATE 6: Good news for riders, at least for today service will continue as usual. A strange middle of the night press conference was held by union president James Macon. At the press conference, Macon apologized to riders for last weeks work stoppage and thanked supporters, but in regards to a future strike said anything is possible. Macon noted that the dispute isn’t about money, but then talked extensively about money issues. He also offered up a number of other interesting statements, which we’ve transcribed below.

UPDATE 5: Don’t count on riding the bus tomorrow, even if it is scheduled to be free. The union has called a secretive 3 a.m. press conference to announce their next move. Union president James Macon refused to speak on the record with WISN, and has not returned our calls or emails. Brendan Conway from MCTS has indicated the transit system is in the dark on what will happen.

UPDATE 4: The union has offered up two new myths. We also have photos from the picket line.

UPDATE 3: Day 2 of the strike is underway. We’re back with more observations.

UPDATE 2: We’ve updated the story to reflect everything that has happened in the first day of the work stoppage.

UPDATE: The story has been updated at the end to reflect the news that the “strike” is official. The union is calling it a work stoppage and will return to work on July 4th after a 72 hour shutdown.

Milwaukee Country Transit System Bus

Milwaukee County Transit System Bus

Milwaukee County Transit System bus drivers and mechanics have authorized a strike that would begin at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. The strike would idle the system’s 416 buses for at least a day, possibly much longer. The last such strike occurred in 1978 and lasted 39 days. Milwaukee Transport Services (which manages the system) and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 will meet again today in a mediated session to try to reach a deal.

If the two sides don’t reach a deal, County Supervisor Michael Mayo, Sr. has already called it a catastrophe that will leave thousands stranded without a way to work, to hospitals or many other destinations. On the plus side, the crowd at your favorite band at Summerfest should be lighter as the system provides 20,000 rides to-and-from the festival grounds every day.

At issue between in the dispute, at least according to statements from the bus drivers’ union, is the desire of management (MTS) to hire part-time drivers to reduce overtime costs and the length of time operators are allowed for bathroom breaks. But the negotiations are complicated by several factors: Most notably, during contract negotiations, union president James Macon faced a contentious re-election campaign. Macon has yet to return my request for comment on the negotiations. Also at issue is a key rule change involving retirement eligibility that could save the county a significant amount of money.

Not to be overlooked in any union labor negotiation in Wisconsin is the reality that this is now a Right to Work state. The law, pushed through by the state legislature and Governor Scott Walker (who said it was a distraction and then gladly signed it at Badger Meter), allows union members to opt-out of the union without penalty. So the union is under more pressure to get a good deal in order to keep members paying their dues.

As important as the contract dispute is, it has been under-covered by the media and myths and half-truths abound. Here are 13 of the most important:

Milwaukee County is reducing bathroom breaks for drivers

Macon has staked his claim on the issue of bathroom breaks, arguing the union isn’t fighting about wages, but instead break times. But according to MCTS Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Brendan Conway, there are no changes proposed to the contract language on such breaks.

As it stands, routes have layovers built in commonly at the end of the route. According to MCTS data, the shortest time allocated is four minutes, which happens on 23 percent of trips. The longest time is 20 minutes, on 2 percent of trips. The second most common occurrence is six minutes, which is allocated to 22 percent of trips. Drivers receive that break multiple times per shift as they do laps on their route.

Conway also noted that drivers are able to call in and pull over to take a break without penalty, should nature call at an inconvenient time. This is something I’ve personally experienced as a rider a number of times as drivers make a quick dash to McDonald’s.

MCTS drivers can retire outrageously early

That would depend on your definition of outrageous. The fact is, MCTS drivers and mechanics are eligible to retire at 47 under a “27 and out” rule. In short, if they began work at age 20, service drivers and mechanics can retire with a full pension and healthcare at 47. Nice work if you can get it. MTS is proposing to replace this with two new rules. The first would allow drivers to retire at 62 with a minimum of five years of service, something that would benefit late hires. The more significant would come from what is dubbed the “rule of 85.” That rule would allow drivers to retire with full benefits when their age plus years of service equals 85. This would push the minimum retirement age back to about 52 or 53 years old for a driver who starts at age 20.

As the rule currently stands, it’s entirely possible that drivers could be hired at 20, retire at 47, draw their pension, have their replacement also retire at 47 (while the original retiree is 74) and begin to draw their pension, and have a third driver hired for the same job. That scenario has the company paying two pensions, with someone earning on a third, while only getting one shift covered. And all three also are receiving health care coverage. Talk about legacy costs.

There are 150,000 daily riders of MCTS

Sometimes one letter makes all the difference. The Milwaukee County Transit System provides approximately 150,000 RIDES every weekday. Assuming every rider took one bus to work and back, that’s only 75,000 RIDERS. And that number is further reduced because of people that need to transfer and people that take multiple trips during the day. Still, it’s safe to say that whatever the actual number of riders is, it’s more than the population of all but a handful of cities in Wisconsin. Shutting down the transit system in Milwaukee County would have a big impact, roughly equal to every resident of my hometown of Janesville (population 63,575, 10th largest city in the state) not being able to leave their house for all but the shortest trips tomorrow.

This number has been confused by everyone from County Executive Chris Abele to Journal Sentinel columnist James Causey.

The Transit System would benefit from being privatized

Er, actually, it already is privatized. Mostly. Ever since Milwaukee County took over the previously for-profit system in 1975, the system has been operated by a private, not-for-profit firm known as Milwaukee Transport Services. MTS is in effect what was leftover from the formerly for-profit Milwaukee & Suburban Transport Company. Milwaukee County owns the physical assets and contracts with Milwaukee Transport Services to operate them. This is a fairly unique arrangement, as most systems in the United States that are privatized have a for-profit operator (for example, New Orleans uses Veolia). Milwaukee’s was one of the last systems to transition from a failing for-profit company to a publicly-owned transit system, which is perhaps why the system is structured as it is.

Milwaukee County has put the contract with MTS out to bid in the past, with MTS winning with the low-cost bids. That is until 2013, when the contract was put out for bid and MV Transportation put in a bid that would have cost $15 million less a year. MTS and Veolia both challenged this bid on a number of grounds, including the idea that MV failed to account for any planning and administration staff, in an appeal before a county board committee. The committee ultimately rejected the bid by MV, while Abele steadfastly supported the company’s proposal. As part of the next budget, the board moved for a requirement to study moving the entire system in-house (becoming the first system in the country to go from an out-sourced operator to publicly operated).

Where does that leave us? No one seems to agree. The system is at the very least privately-managed and publicly-owned. Everyone does seem to agree that somewhere along the way lawyers representing the various disputing entities made money.

Milwaukee bus drivers are government workers

Nope. Despite the fact that the buses say “Milwaukee County Transit System” on them, bus drivers are actually employed by the private, not-for-profit operator Milwaukee Transport Services. They’re still unionized, but unlike many other systems in the country, they’re not government employees.

Bus drivers benefit from the Milwaukee County pension scandal

Double nope. Because they’re not employees of Milwaukee County they don’t have county pensions. Because they are employees of MTS, drivers and mechanics have pensions from and managed through MTS.

Bus drivers make a salary of $63,000 a year

If this were the Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact, this rating would get a “Mostly True” or maybe “Half True” or maybe… Yes, the average MCTS bus driver does take home $63,000 annually, but only after overtime. In order to reach that salary, the driver must work overtime equivalent to roughly a sixth workday in the week. Their base pay is an average hourly rate of $23.78, which puts drivers just under $50,000 annually. Reducing the use of overtime pay through the hiring of part-time drivers (as the contract offer proposes to do) would reduce the average compensation for drivers, but also result in them working closer to a traditional 40-hour week.

A traditional 40-hour week is, however, something that is rather difficult for a transit system to achieve. Some routes have scheduled runs that last up to nine-hours, which makes it nearly possible to pencil out a 40-hour work week.

Drivers are being asked to pay more for their pension

The current contract proposal from MTS will actually reduce the pension contribution drivers must make by 1.3 percent. This is effectively a wage increase that will result in more take-home pay for drivers. Under the current contract, which expired April 1st, drivers pay 7.8 percent of their pension costs via an automatic withdrawal from their paychecks. The new deal would lower that contribution to 6.5 percent.

Only active members may vote on union contracts

Wrong. One important footnote about the deal approval and strike vote is that retired members of the union are eligible to vote. Those retirees are of course likely to vote for more drastic action to preserve a premium healthcare plan, given that their pension checks will continue to be issued while the union strikes.

This contract is about Chris Abele trying to squeeze the union

The story of the millionaire County Executive trying to crush the common man sure would make for good headlines. But in fact, the contract negotiations are between Milwaukee Transport Services and the bus drivers’ union. Yes, Milwaukee County Department of Transportation Director of Administration James Martin has been in the room a few times during negotiations according to Conway, but that’s the extent of the county’s direct involvement. Conway, speaking from his past role as communications director for the county executive, remembers former MTS head Lloyd Grant bringing a final deal to Abele’s office to brief the County Executive, but Abele had nothing to do with negotiating the deal. This is the non-profit transit company trying to negotiate with the transit workers to provide the most service possible.

Drivers haven’t received a wage increase in years

Built into the current deal, and into the proposed future deal, are cost-of-living adjustments. Every month the pay rate for drivers is adjusted according to a federal standard allowing for up to a 2 percent cost-of-living annual adjustment. This means drivers get a few pennies more per hour every few months. Not a huge increase certainly, but something many in the private sector would envy.

The new contract would reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment for pensioners that retire after December 31st, 2015 from 2 percent to 1 percent. Existing retirees would not be affected.

No other bus system uses part-time workers

Actually, a number of other systems utilize part-time drivers, including Minneapolis and Cleveland which were ironically just pitched last week as cities with transit systems worth emulating. But part-time employees wouldn’t be part of the local union, so that is reason enough for union leaders to hate this part of the deal.

Employees would go without pay during the strike

That’s probably mostly true. The local union can receive strike pay from the national Amalgamated Transit Union, but it’s believed by multiple sources outside of the union that the national union has yet to authorize the strike support. So it’s possible that a strike would cause significant financial hardship on the drivers. But as noted, I haven’t heard from Macon on this and other questions. Should he get in touch we will update the story.

Reference Documents


The mediated contract negotiations broke off around 5 p.m. with no deal, effectively meaning a strike is coming. Service continues through the end of the operating day, with a “work stoppage,” as the union is calling it, beginning at 3 a.m. and lasting 72 hours.

According to a release put out by MCTS, the company offered a new contract during today’s negotiations that included a matching $1,000 Flexible Spending Account for employees to help offset modest increases in healthcare costs (an increase of $500), a cap on the number of part-time drivers MCTS will hire and some flexibility for how mechanics use their personal time. According to MCTS, ATU 998 came to the table asking for an $8 million increase.

The union held a press conference at their headquarters at 6 p.m. During that press conference president James Macon stated that the union did not want to go on strike, but would go on what they are calling a 72-hour “work stoppage.” Macon, contrary to what Conway had told me earlier today, said that James Martin, a county employee, is running the negotiations (we report above that he was present at the negotiations). Macon also noted that the county is refusing to go to arbitration, but that the union has offered.

During the press conference the union expressed their displeasure with the intent to hire part-time drivers that will not be offered a pension or healthcare, with Macon stating that it would bankrupt the pension (I can’t make sense of this, and await a chance to follow-up with ATU about it). Macon also stated that MCTS is putting out false information, without stating specific items. The press conference ultimately broke up with Macon repeatedly insisting that the media is not putting out information from ATU, with members of the media stating that the information is from March and out-of-date. We will gladly publish that or any other information from ATU 998 should it arrive.

You can watch the press conference on the TMJ4 website.

It is important to note that I have yet to speak directly with Macon as of 7:30 p.m. on June 30th.

A rally is scheduled in support of transit workers at 8 p.m. tomorrow at N. Fond du Lac Ave. and W. Vine St. near the MCTS main garage.

The 1978 strike lasted 39 days, here’s hoping a resolution is reached much faster.

Update #2 (July 1st, 2015 – 4:00 p.m.)

The story continues to twist and turn. A few key points have emerged and countless press releases have been issued. Most significantly, despite Milwaukee Transport Services not being a traditional part of the county, it does appear the county is involved in the negotiations. Tensions have been high between County Executive Chris Abele and union leader James Macon for quite some time, with Macon calling out Abele in person at a recent WisPolitics event (audio from The Daily Reporter/Matthew Taub).

The County Board also finds itself ensnared in the strike now, with Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice finding that Supervisor John Weishan encouraged the union to strike or stage a “flu day.” In a memo about his meeting with Weishan, union legislative director Thomas Stawicki admits that the new Right to Work legislation could have a serious effect on the union’s ability to maintain a strike.

In that memo, Stawecki also contended the county is saving $250,000 to $300,000 a day while the system is shut down. My back of the envelope math suggests that number is likely close to correct, even given the lost farebox revenue, non-unionized employees still working and monthly and weekly fare reimbursements (If you’re playing along at home, it’s a $164 million annual budget with 30 percent of that coming from the farebox and some small amount for all the non-unionized staff).

What’s nearly impossible to calculate is the lost economic productivity of the region while the strike goes on. Thankfully the internet is coming to the rescue in a big way: Reddit has a section for people looking for rides and a number of neighborhood-based Facebook groups have people offering rides. I also received an email from Uber today advising me on estimated costs to get to Summerfest.

Not to be outdone by the County Board’s involvement, alderman and mayoral candidate Bob Donovan showed up on the picket lines this morning. Donovan also issued a press release calling for Mayor Tom Barrett to intervene. But neither Donovan, Barrett more any city officials have any direct control over the transit system. Donovan’s strategy for solving the impasse? “Lock both sides in a room until we get a deal done.”

I’m still awaiting a callback from the union to tell more of their side of the story. Meanwhile, I highly recommend you watch the uncut ATU press conference footage from yesterday evening at bottom of the TMJ4 article.

Update #3 (July 2nd, 2015 – 12:00 p.m.)

After you read my update, make sure to read my colleague Bruce Murphy’s column “Who’s to Blame for Bus Strike?” It offers an informative take on the political fight that has surrounded the transit system for the past five years.

The “work stoppage” has entered day two and not much has changed. People still can’t get to work by bus. Drivers and mechanics are still picketing. No end is in sight.

County Executive Chris Abele finds himself increasingly at the center of the storm for a variety of reasons. One, it’s always easier to motivate people to against a clear enemy. Two, it’s far easier when that common enemy is far wealthier than the protesters. Three, the county’s proposed contribution to the arena (the debt) is by far the most blatant giveaway of public funds in the proposed deal and makes for an easy counterpoint for the union in this debate. Four, he does have a new security deal that includes the use of an SUV. And finally, the union would have no success framing MCTS managing director Dan Boehm as the bad guy. He’s unknown by the general public, frequently seen in the crowd at public events and has a down-to-earth personality, none of the qualities you want in Goliath if you’re trying to marshal an army of Davids. Whether he is or not, it’s easy to frame Abele as the villain.

Also of interest, the union still doesn’t seem to have a clear public outreach strategy. They haven’t hired a public relations firm. They don’t have a clear single issue they’re trumpeting. They don’t seem to have lockstep support from other unions (yes, there has been some support from others, but nothing that appears to be significant). Their website still lists the ousted leadership from years ago. Their social media presence is non-existent. As one other reporter in town put it to me “it’s striking 101.” It’s pretty clear they’re failing the class.

Along with the union’s odd public relations behavior, their time-limited work stoppage is also a bit unusual when it comes to negotiating.  By announcing they would only stop work for three days, the union gave away some leverage. Why would MCTS compromise if the union is coming back to work under the old deal on Saturday? I’m far from a labor law expert, but I can’t make sense of defining the length of your strike before you start it.

There is a new, ambiguously managed Twitter account (@MkeTransit) supporting the union. The account is heavily promoting the use of the #BlameAbele hashtag. They’re also using a modified version of a photo I took without attribution, which violates the terms of use for the image.

Retired driver Angela Porter has posted a first-hand account of her time as a driver on her Facebook wall. In the now widely-circulated post, she claims to have had her nose broken and head smashed into a farebox in separate incidents. She references an incident where she was sexually assaulted at gun point at the end of a route. In reference to the bathroom time dispute, she notes that she had to wear adult diapers while working shortly before she retired. We’re unable to verify her account.

Myths also still abound the debate around the issue. MCTS communications head Brendan Conway even jumped in on the 150,000 riders myth (truth: it’s probably at least half that) during an interview with WUWM. People still continue to discuss that MCTS wants to increase the cost of the pension (truth: they would cut the cost to employees). They want to shorten layovers/bathroom breaks (truth: the short breaks are already in place and have been for years, no change is proposed in the contract).

Reader insight: As astute reader CK Ellison pointed out, the first day of the strike ironically coincided with the 40th anniversary of the county’s ownership of the system. I think that makes the strike a mid-life crisis.

Update #4 (July 2nd, 2015 – 3:00 p.m.)

The union is firing back at the claim that transit employees make an average of $63,000 annually (including overtime). Their fact sheet states that County Executive Chris Abele is overstating their pay by 20 percent.

New Myth – “Yeah, drivers (are) going to make $63,000 if (they’re) working 18 hours a day, seven, 10 days a week”

This quote was given to WISN by union President James Macon. Ignoring overtime for a minute, a bus driver working 18 hours a day, seven days a week would earn $155,544.48 annually. A driver that works Macon’s mythical 10-day weeks would earn $222,580.80. Factor in overtime and that driver would be sleepless, but very wealthy.

To earn $63,000 a driver needs to work an average of 47 hours a week. The 40-hour regular base pay at $23.87 hour nets them $49,462.40. With overtime being paid at time and a half ($35.67), they would need to work an additional 380 hours or seven extra hours a week. It’s easy to imagine a driver that works a nine-hour long run (45 hours a week) making it to $63,000 when overtime is factored in.

Conway notes in a follow-up phone call that like many union contracts, overtime rules at MCTS are extremely complex. The $62,300 figure is calculated by taking the base salary for every employee and the budgeted overtime and dividing it evenly among the employees. Conway was quick to point out that seniority and other issues cause that ideal dispersal not to happen and some employees earn more than others. One thing is clear, MCTS pays the average employee $62,300.

New Myth – Part-Time Employees Would Bankrupt the Pension

The union has put forth at multiple points that they believe the part-time employees would bankrupt the pension. I can’t make sense of this claim. Part-time employees would neither pay into nor draw from the pension. They have zero impact.

You could make the complicated claim that by replacing full-time drivers with part-time employees, there is a reduction in the number of people paying in. If the pension worked like Social Security, that would be an issue as the current and future workers pay for the current retirees. With a well-managed pension fund the costs are paid up-front by the future beneficiaries. On the day of retirement that employee’s future benefits shouldn’t require any future deposits. Of course, because the funds are often invested this could cause short-term issues if the stock market crashes.

As I’ve reported earlier in this article, the contract offer would reduce the employee contribution to the pension. This would in effect give the transit employees a raise. The ATU Fact Sheet states that they want “no cuts to the pension.” It notes “the pension is adequately funded. There is no need for adjustments.” Strangely ATU does not seem to want this pay increase.

As for those concerned about the part-timers not receiving benefits, fear not. According to the union many, if not all, of the part-timers would be retirees (who as we reported could be as young as 47). They would still be receiving their pension, as well as their retiree healthcare and the part-time pay. It’s quite likely they would be the highest-paid employees at MCTS when you factor in their pension and their part-time pay (commonly referred to as “double dipping”). I suspect a number of retirees will ultimately welcome the chance for part-time work.

Other Updates

Some other news and notes.

Picketing Photos

Urban Milwaukee contributor Laura Thompson went to MCTS headquarters on N. 17th St. and W. Fond du Lac Ave. to see how the picket line was looking. A small group was there drawing a number of honks in support, including many from truck drivers. Picket lines are also in place at the two other MCTS garages, Fiebrantz (1900 W. Fiebrantz Ave.) and Kinnickinnic (1718 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.).

Update #6 (July 6th, 2015 – 7:15 a.m.)

A middle-of-the-night press conference from the union still leaves plenty of questions unanswered. Will the system continue running past today? Does the union view the work stoppage as a success? What is this negotiation really about?

Despite calls and emails to the union, we were unable to get invited to the press conference. The press conference was ultimately held outside of the festival grounds at 1 a.m., not the previously reported 3 a.m. During the press conference, which Fox 6 posted raw video from, union president James Macon offered up a number of statements regarding the on-going labor dispute. We’ve transcribed the notable ones below.

Macon: “I apologize to our riding public, it was not our intention to basically stop service. The County Executive basically have pretty much forced us, forced our hands, and what I mean about that is that they forced our hands.” Macon went on to thank supporters for all that they have done.

Macon: “This has nothing [to do] about money.” Macon then oddly went on to note the loss of overtime the drivers experienced, which has a lot to do with money.

Macon: “The county executive has said he we would our riding public one day free because of inconvenience. While I think it should be three days free considering that our drivers paid for the last three days. They have saved a lot of money due to that. so you’re talking about inconveniencing  passengers. I think they should get three days of pay or riding the bus for free. I apologize to the riding public again it was not our intentions.”

During the press conference, Macon waved a sheet of paper (similar to what he did at the previous press conference) and said that it has proved to everyone that the press has refused to report on the arbitration offer. According to Macon, the union is offering to go to arbitration but the transit company will not accept. We have not received a copy of the document despite multiple requests.

Macon: “Yes, our intention was to do what we did with Summerfest. Unfortunately our passengers had to pay. The employees of Summerfest had to pay… This time we took advantage of Summerfest.” Following an apology to riders and Summerfest employees, Macon asked “am I going to apologize to Summerfest? No, I’m not, because that’s the only thing the County Executive believed in was Summerfest. The only thing he thinks about is the [Milwaukee] Bucks.”

Macon referenced that he has brought up the idea of a sales tax to Chris Abele. The sales tax would be used to fund transit, parks and mental health. Macon also noted that “a lot” of riders suffer from mental health issues. Insulting the passengers seems like a weird public relations strategy.

Macon: “We are capable of hiring a lot more full-timers, the problem is their standards are very high, very high. That’s why we’re short on drivers. We’re short on mechanics because their standards are very high. We cannot keep drivers or mechanics because of the crap that they deal with everyday”

Macon: “Also people want to know when the press we show them why drivers are using bathrooms out the bus.  There is a reason why drivers are using bathrooms out the back of the bus, there is nowhere to use the bathroom. Also the press has shown drivers speeding, turning on red, breaking the law. It’s because there’s no run time. These are the problems that we are facing everyday, but every time the County Executive keeps saying its money. Well we walked in the shoes with our riding public. Every person that works at this bus company has did these jobs that some our riding public has basically walked in.”

The union president at multiple points noted the union is willing to go back to the bargaining table, but that they were not going to accept this contract. He also noted that the transit company has refused to reenter talks with the union.

It’s unclear at this point when contract talks will resume, but the bus system remains in operation, at least for now.

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Categories: Eyes on Milwaukee

87 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: 15 Myths About The Bus Strike (and More)”

  1. AG says:

    Thanks Jeramey, I haven’t seen any other good source that’s been able to give details on what the sticking points were.

  2. Juli Kaufmann says:

    Ditto. Appreciate the detailed overview of the situation. The impact is so significant.

  3. Jon says:

    How long until the “Walker Goon Squad” shows up, starts cracking union heads and the union members are the only ones arrested? When Slimy Scotty breaks things, he wants them to stay broken. I know the Koch brothers will be sporting enormous erections when they watch the video of the union members being beaten down.

  4. John says:

    As someone who does normally take the bus to work, this is more than annoying. I’m lucky that my wife can easily drop me off without much effect on either of our schedules; most riders of MCTS don’t have that option.

    Hopefully my wife has all her support staff because about half rely on the bus as their main form of transportation.

    I don’t know if the bus drivers’ union realize that their strike hurts their natural base of support (riders), but if they can tell us to go screw ourselves, I’d rather see MCTS bring in the scabs.

  5. Casey says:

    With all the investment in bike infrastructure hopefully more people will be riding to work and discover how easy it can be to get around town on two wheels.
    I used to ride the bus to work until I realized that rather than an almost hour bus commute I could ride to work in about 20 minutes and also had much mor flexibility.

  6. Tom D says:

    I think Walker won’t do anything about this strike. While he hates unions, he (and the Koch brothers) also hate transit. So I predict he lets the strike run its course (while blasting both unions and transit), while perhaps reducing state funding to MCTS (fewer operating days means fewer state dollars).

    I don’t know what Walker would have done if this had happened while he was County Executive.

  7. AG says:

    Hey Jeramey, MCTS has laid out their offer on their website in a nice bullet point list and chart.

  8. Lucy Cooper says:

    More and more I go to UrbanMilwaukee for real reporting on serious political/financial topics. The reporters at JS either don’t understand the details or have been instructed to concentrate on human interest angles. Commercial radio is full of right wing screeds.

    Thanks for the first comprehensive reporting on this issue.

  9. Tony Muhammad says:

    What good is the Mayor, County Executive, and Govenor that can not manage the responsibilities that come with the office.

    These three elected officials can muster up taxpayer funding, give away land value at 9 million dollars, and legislate special state financing packages to entice billionaires to built a new indoor basketball court for millionaire ballers, but they have no interest in the transit system union that provides 250,000 rides a day, concerns about day to day work conditions, an increase in pay to keep pace with inflation and protection of their health and union pensions.

    This month “Wisconsin Shame Award,” as usual goes to Mayor Tom Barrett, County Supervisor Chris Abele, and Governor Scott Walker who once again prove they do not care two cents about the residents of the City and County of Milwaukee.

  10. Margo Allen says:

    The union president seems to be quite a volatile person, and possibly uninformed of just who he is negotiating with. That said, I have less to lose than many riders, as plan B is biking or begging a ride. I support the drivers, even while I have envied their pay and benefits. Look what has happened to teachers. The job can be difficult- drivers have little control over what equipment, routes, and hours of work. The public has harassed them and attacked them time and again .Competing with busy traffic and maintaining a meticulous schedule is challenging to say the least. Lets put pressure toward increased funding to the state, and preserve the fine legacy this company has provided. The cuts keep coming, and we are left snapping at each other here at ground level. Think of the horror many motorists have at the prospect of using the busses. Many of us do every day, and we are quite aware of annoyances we all face- and the hope for improvements, as opposed to cuts.

  11. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Incredible. I actually started this article thinking I might find some reason to sympathize with the union but this is just nuts. Why people? Don’t you realize what a joke this is? How dumb are these union members?

  12. Jane Darby says:

    While i’m often in support of people that strike, this one bothers me…a lot.
    First, the timing. Come on, July 3rd is probably the busiest day for the bus service. I am sire that was part of their plan, but striking now os a good way to make enemies, not draw attention to your plight.
    Second, i cant help but compare the Bus drivers to other professions. Lets take paramedics for instance. The average paramedic earns $48,000. But requires far more training than a bus driver. Often works in unsafe conditions. They may or may not get a break during their shift. Due to rules strictly for emergency workers they can be forced to work overtime, even if they dont want it. Pension? If they work for a larger fire department, sure. But private service paramedics may or may not have any kind of retirement plan. 20 and out? Yeah….no.
    23.00 bucks an hour to drive a bus, with full pension? Jesus, sign me up.

  13. Tracy H says:

    Not sure why folks keep name dropping politicians in the comments here. This is a negotiation between a non-profit organization and a union – both third sector organizations, not public. I really want to side with the drivers on this one, having used MCTS for so many years, but I cannot. I am fearful to be on the roads as a pedestrian, biker, or driver after 5pm during this thing, we already have too many drunk drivers, I see many more after Summerfest. Perhaps the County will set up DWI checkpoints and recover some lost revenue that way at least.

  14. Tom D says:

    I once found a copy of the 2007-2010 MCTS contract on the web (it has since been taken down). There are numerous provisions whereby drivers are paid for hours not actually worked (for example, a 6-hour shift is always paid at 8 hours).

    Since transit work doesn’t neatly break into 8-hour chunks, I think there is probably a lot of hours paid but not actually worked. Also, there is a lot of instances where drivers are paid overtime (time-and-one-half) even though they don’t work more than 40 hours (weekend work, for example).

    I think the bathroom break issue is a smokescreen for the part-time worker issue because part-timers would reduce overtime paid out.

    As I understand it, drivers are assigned “runs” which consist of “pieces” (a continuous period on one bus route) and/or “trippers” (once-a-day run to a school, for example).

    Drivers can be assigned up to two pieces (or one piece and one tripper) a day. One piece/tripper can be in the morning and other at night (the dreaded “split shift), but there are limits as to how many hours the two parts can be split (Contract Section 13.048) and how many drivers get split shifts (§13.049).

    Here are some highlights from that contract:

    • No run will pay less than 8 hours (§13.046)

    • Any single piece of 6 hours or more combined with a tripper shall be paid at least 8 hours. If there is no tripper available, the 6-hour piece is paid 8 hours. (§13.407)

    • Drivers can be assigned 3 pieces, but the shortest gap between two of those pieces must be paid and those two pieces treated as a single piece. (§13.051)

    • Trippers that are part of runs must pay a minimum of 2 hours (§13.053)

    • If the time not worked between pieces is 60 minutes or less, it must be paid. (§13.054)

    • “Extra” work (like covering for a sick driver after your shift ends) is paid as overtime (even if you didn’t actually work 8 hours that day). (§13.058f)

    • Miller Park drivers are paid from the time service begins before the game until the fans are taken home after the game. (They get paid during the game(s) while sitting their buses, even if it’s a doubleheader.) And, of course, all this Miller Park time is “extra” and therefore paid at time-and-a-half. (§13.058g)

    • If a driver’s run is a split shift spanning more than 10 hours (eg 4 hours on, 2.5 hours off, and 4 hours on again), anything beyond 10 hours is treated as overtime and paid at time-and-a-half. All work on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays is paid at time-and-a-half (§13.074d)

    • First-year drivers are guaranteed 30 hours of pay per week. Second-year 35 hours. Third year and beyond are guaranteed 40 hours of pay per week. (§13.126)

  15. Dave says:

    Stuff like this is why union busting Koch whores like Scott Walker get elected lowing the wages and benefits for all workers. Way to go ATU local 998. You might want to fire the head of your union but, apparently, you just reelected him. Also, look into someone who knows something about PR.

  16. Will says:

    ” I support the drivers, even while I have envied their pay and benefits”

    “The job can be difficult- drivers have little control over what equipment, routes, and hours of work. The public has harassed them and attacked them time and again .Competing with busy traffic and maintaining a meticulous schedule is challenging to say the least. ”

    $63k a year PLUS great benefits and unsurprisingly the unions wants more tax payer money. So sad. So predictable. I do like the poster above sympathy for the drivers though. Cant pick the routes to drive (the horror!) competing with busy traffic (increase wages now!) maintaining a schedule (My word!!!!). Man…. here I thought being a bus driver was easy, (sarcasm)

  17. Jason says:

    Not sure why you are stating that MTS is a private organization. This is no longer accurate. They have officially been converted to an “instrumentality” of the County. It’s still an awkward pseudo-private group with a lot of gray areas, but the command structure is now extremely clear with MTS reporting to the director of County DOT (Brian Dranzik), and then to Abele.

    Also, James Martin is most definitely involved in management of MTS and has been getting more involved throughout 2015. I have no doubt in the Union’s statement that he is a key player in negotiations.

  18. Paul says:

    Jeramey, finally a fact filled non-biased article. Keep up the great work

  19. Ruth says:

    I have ridden MCTS for over 30 years. I fully support the bus drivers union. I have seen alot of situations on the bus over the years and am grateful for the bus drivers. Often times they have to deal with difficult situations.
    Come on people! Have some empathy. By the way, the $63000 is with alot of overtime. Regular pay is less than $50000.
    It takes a special person to drive a bus in the city of Milwaukee every day!

  20. Tim says:

    Sorry Ruth, it’s not like these people are running into burning buildings; they’re driving a bus around town & can retire after 27 years. They’re trying to hold people hostage to get more for themselves and don’t give a damn about the riders.

  21. Ruth says:

    It would be interesting to know how many responding to this article actually ride the bus.
    Do you live in the city of Milwaukee?
    A bus driver never knows what he or she will encounter from one minute to the next. I have seen bus drivers have to break up fights, deal with drunks, have to hope that the person entering the bus doesn’t become violent. They are also responsible for being sensitive to the needs of people with various disabilities, as well as being prepared when an emergency occurs on the bus. Bus drivers can also help with directions to your destination. I have seen bus drivers deal with emergency heath situations when a bus patron was in a sudden health crisis. These are professionals who are prepared for any situation!

    The union president has repeatedly said that this is not about money. The issues are RESPECT, bathroom breaks, and the hiring of part-time workers with no benefits. Once a few part-time workers with no benefits, when will it become all workers have to become part-time with no benefits? The downward spiral.

    The sights are now focused on MCTS now that the County Board had been decimated to half-time with no benefits.Is it ironic that the County Executive’s former spokesperson is now the spokesperson for MCTS? Is that a little fishy?

    All the while, the talk is of the huge proposed arena that taxpayers will be on the hook for. We can see the priorities here. Pitiful.

  22. Jane Darby says:

    hahahaha! Ruth, you could replace the words “bus driver” with “Walmart greeter” or “$8.00 an hour security guard.”
    Are bis drivers importent? Sure. But lets get real, they aren’t dealing with anything that a lot of other people have to deal with on a daily basis.
    Do you need a degree to be a bus driver? Specialized training? (I’m not talking about they’re 5 week in house training). In reality, this can be considered unskilled labor.
    I’m guessing you’re all in favor of the $15.00 minimum wage also.

  23. Juli Kaufmann says:

    To reply to the question: I do ride the bus regularly. I do not live in Milwaukee anymore, but commute regularly to and within the City limits on the bus – not exactly sure why that distinction matters. I have previously lived in MKE for over 20 years. For whatever its worth, I care about this issue and have personal experience. I appreciate the continued discussion on this thread.

  24. Ruth says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Jane, I stand by what I said previously. Yes the drivers are prepared for any situation. They are professionals who deal with life and death situations every day. Their developed skill is quite extensive.

    That being said all workers deserve respect and a living wage.

    Juli, it is great that you still take the bus. Taking the bus all over Milwaukee gives a perspective of what the drivers have to deal with on a daily basis.

    I dream of a transportation like other countries and some major cities here in this country have. And the drivers need to be respected and treated well! Is that too much to ask?

  25. AG says:

    Tom D, good find on that old contract. Really puts into perspective how these contracts end up. Maybe we’d all be happier if we had special privileges like those found in Union contracts and our country would be a happier place (well, until the rest of the companies that can go overseas go ahead and do so and many jobs are lost). However, most of us don’t have these privileges.

    Tim is right on point regarding the skill level of these drivers relative to their pay. Most people either make half these drivers salaries or had to work through college or trade school to make as much. Most people have expectations of working full shifts, knowing their part time coworkers aren’t working for benefits, and try to work harder than the person next to them to earn a bigger raise each year.

    Unions feel they don’t get the respect they deserve… maybe they don’t get respect, but that lack of respect is not because they have limited planned bathroom breaks. No wonder many people feel unions are out of touch.

  26. Ruth says:

    The goal is to get people of low and moderate means fighting among each other and turning them against their own interests, which the powers that be have effectively been able to do.

    Unions aren’t perfect but wages were much better for the average person in the 1950’s through the 1970s before Reagan came in. His first action in office: breaking the Air Traffic Controller’s Union! Sure, it is difficult world out there. Look at history and you will see it is when unions were strongest that there were more family supporting jobs and people of modest means were able to get ahead. Unions aren’t the problem!

  27. Kyle says:

    Ruth, it helped that the manufacturing facilities in Europe were in no shape to compete following the war. It also helped that the GI Bill allowed many to attend college that wouldn’t have had that opportunity otherwise. After a generation of rebuilding, global competition was at a much higher level in the 80s and beyond.

    So… all we have to do is support the unions (and bomb the rest of the world), and everything will be great again!

  28. Paul says:

    Ruth, it’s hard to compare the 50s to today, unless you want to remove most of the women working now from the workforce like it was back then. Reagan was right to stop an illegal job action.

  29. Matt says:

    Ruth is right, can we quit being jealous of someone making $62,000 a year when we are giving away millions to corporations. If you are so jealous go apply and drive a bus for a living. This is the divide and conquer strategy getting the middle class to peck at each other while they sit back and laugh. They did it with teachers they did it with welfare and on and on it will go. I agree their is likely some waste in all the systems but it pales in comparison to the waste at the top. While we are talking about thousands of dollars they deal in millions. Lets tackle those problems first and quit arguing about the pennies.

  30. Ruth says:

    Kyle, what you say is true about post-war Europe not being able to compete in the 50’s and the GI Bill helping to facilitate education and upward mobility for lower and middle classes here. But that is only part of the story. The larger part is the effect unions and also the New Deal. Unions fought for alot of things that we take for granted today like the 40 hour work week, child labor laws, weekends, vacation time, sick time, for example.

    To comment on your other point, we start too many wars when the vast money spent on war could be spent on needs in this country.

    Paul, yes the 50’s were different all right, especially for women. After having been encouraged to work in the 40s ala Rosie the Riveter, when the men came back from war women were told that their services were no longer needed and were told that the patriotic thing to do would be to go home and have babies, which accounts for the Baby Boom. Women again started working in the late 60s and early 70s. The earning power of a man’s paycheck wasn’t enough and women were needed again. Of course, the women’s movement assisted. However, note that some women have always worked like black women who took the jobs of domestic work and the like.
    Women still get paid less than men even for the same job!

    Desperate people who have been wronged and overlooked and underpaid often have had to resort to measures to change their situation.

  31. AG says:

    Ruth, surely you’re not purporting that a bus driver making 63k a year is of low means?

    If this isn’t evidence of how unions can be their own worst enemies… I’m not sure what is. It’s all about getting as much as they can, without regard to the consequences. If expensive, and early eligible, retirement benefits and other expensive benefits don’t make MCTS insolvent, it’ll surely put pressure to cut more routes and increase fares in the future. But hey, at least the remaining drivers don’t have to worry about part timers taking their overtime right?

  32. Ruth says:

    Thank you Matt for your common sense and seeing what is happening to us!

    Open your eyes people! Don’t you see what is happening in this state, county, and city? This has been a divide and conquer strategy!

  33. Ruth says:

    $63000 is solidly middle-class, AG. I did not mean to imply that it is not. I want pay standards for drivers to remain as is.

  34. AG says:

    Matt, when you take into account the whole system, those thousands become millions. And those millions make or break systems like the MCTS. Maybe you’re ok with cutting even more routes in the future when we’re paying 3 people to do 8 hours work, even if the actual driving time is only 6 hrs?

    The real issue for me isn’t even the dispute and negotiations… I’m not jealous of someone making 63k a year, I’m upset that they have the gall to hold the community that depends on them hostage over things that most people see as a luxury. They come across as spoiled and entitled.

  35. AG says:

    I agree Ruth, they do indeed get solidly middle class pay. I don’t think anyone here thinks they should get less, in fact even the information we know about what MCTS is offering includes not just cost of living increases but an additional increase plus lower contributions to their pension. So it’s settled then, they should get back to serving the community and doing their jobs.

  36. Matt says:

    AG – there are two parties to the negotiation, where is the outrage at management for the gall to hold the community that depends on them hostage. I would arugue they want that as it continues to put citizens against each other instead of point the finger at leadership. I used to be on the other side where you are and then realized that the balance of power has shifted to much in the other direction. My point is we are focusing on each of these issues on an individual basis when we need to look at it from a larger perspective. The problem is not that we take some pay or benefits away from teachers / bus drivers as part of a negotiation. The problem occurs when instead of giving that money back to you or I and the citizens of this state or using it to reinvest in other things, it is instead given in the form of tax breaks to corporations and others. But we forget about that stuff and pound our chest that we stuck it to some poor teacher or bus driver how makes $50-60k per year.

  37. Ruth says:

    AG as the union president has said repeatedly, this isn’t about wages. It is about working conditions. The only way that the drivers have been able to get people to take notice is to stage this very inconvenient work stoppage. Maybe their issues will be taken seriously after this.

  38. AG says:

    Ruth, what working conditions? The only argument for actual working conditions is the scheduled bathroom breaks… If the information Jeramey put forth in this story is true, I don’t think that’s a bad working condition at all.

    Someone needs to hire a PR person for the union, because if they think leaving people stranded is going to someone rally people to their cause then they will be quite disappointed.

  39. AG says:

    Matt, can you point to the pay or benefits that are being taken away here? I only see that MCTS isn’t giving enough new pay and benefits to suit the union.

  40. Paul says:

    Ruth,, “Work like a black woman” ???
    There’s a federal equal pay law, I have never worked at a job where women were paid less than men for the exact same job.
    The only reason the union leaders called for this strike was because the part-time workers wouldn’t be forced to join the union.

  41. Ruth says:

    AG I said in a previous post it is RESPECT, the hiring of part-time workers with no benefits, and the bathroom break issue that are the issues of concern.

    I read in the JS that some workers are wearing Depends. I heard one of the drivers on TV say that some drivers are wetting their pants. There is a problem with the bathroom break policy.

  42. Ruth says:

    Paul, yes there is an equal pay law since 1963, but it isn’t enforced. You wouldn’t know if you were being paid more than a woman. Employers discourage talk among employees about pay. Woman are still being paid 79 cents to every man’s dollar-that is white women. Black women receive less and latinas receive even less. Women are making a lot less than men for the very same day which amounts to $1mil over a lifetime. That hurts!

    The Paycheck Fairness Act is before Congress right now. Please contact your representative and senator to say yes to this legislation!

  43. AG says:

    The drivers can stop at any time if they need to… they don’t have to use the scheduled breaks. I call BS on those accounts.

    And how is hiring part time workers a lack of respect? Everywhere you look, government or private sector, you see part time workers who don’t get full time benefits. That’s why they call them full time benefits.

    Like I said, this shows us how out of touch some people are.

  44. Cheryle Toney says:

    I was looking forward on going to Summerfest on yesterday an was unable to go.I AM NOT HAPPY!

  45. Ruth says:

    AG if you read my earlier comments you would know why its not good to start hiring part-time workers with no benefits. I’m not going to repeat myself.

    The drivers wouldn’ t call a strike and tell the whole world that drivers ” were urinating all over themselves” if there weren’t something amiss with the bathroom policy!

  46. Ruth says:

    I’m sorry to hear that you can’t attend Summerfest Cheryle.

    This goes to show how important the drivers are and not to take them for granted.

  47. Jane Darby says:

    you’re hitting it on the head AG. Bus drivers are making a good living. Fair pay for low skill jobs. They have a great pension, scheduled bathroom breaks, and the ability to make unscheduled breaks. Part time employees rarely get benefits. So the part timers will cut into all the available overtime of the full-timers….ok…like any other company, they have to find ways to balance the budget. This protest is unfounded and being poorly run (i should expect that from poorly educated employees). I say “ride it out, and toss the same contract back in front of them.” They dont want it? Bring in Violloia.

  48. AG says:

    Being beholden to a transit union and relying on them for transportation to work, the grocery store, the doctor, etc, knowing they can take it all away because they’re against such common sense things as hiring part time workers, is one of the main reasons I could never live without a car. Unfortunately a good number of people in the city can’t afford that option…

    So much fear that part-time workers are used to help fit odd schedules and avoid excessive overtime… but no fear of what a future over-stretched MCTS would mean. Talk about failing to see the forest for the trees.

  49. Ruth says:

    Talk about not seeing the big picture! I have managed without a car for many years. The car culture is ruining this nation!

    When you start hiring part-timers with no benefits how do you know if the rest won’t also be forced to do the same? Downward spiral! Look at what is happening in this state to teachers and other workers! Get your heads out of the sand!!

  50. AG says:

    So Ruth, you’re willing to risk a potential future of fewer bus routes, fewer drivers, shorter running hours, and more… just so there’s no part time workers? Makes sense.

  51. Ruth says:

    I would suggest that you read the post that retired driver Angela Porter has to her Facebook page. There is a link to her FB page in the third update above. Being an MCTS driver isn’t easy. There are openings right now so go ahead and apply.

    AG if you’ve been following state politics, you would know that management often make threats to get workers to accept less. I would dispute that the money isn’t there.

  52. AG says:

    Ruth, Angela’s biggest gripes seem to be the violence and dangers of the job… why isn’t isn’t the sticking point in these negotiations about safety instead of bathroom breaks or part-timers? The human body is generally able to hold it’s waste for more than the 40-90 minutes that a bus route takes… and when it can’t, the drivers can stop. This is a foolish subject, and a smokescreen for the real issues.

    Also, your view of the limitless supply of funding pretty much sums up everything people say about the mentality of unions.

  53. Jane Darby says:

    News Flash!!
    Being a bus driver isn’t easy!

    Neither is being a waiter…or an iron worker, or a nurse….or a…..

    No one on here is saying they don’t deserve what they get. But they get a pretty fair deal. To ask for more…stupid idea. They aren’t going to get a ton of support.
    If you think the strike is really about bathroom breaks, you’re fooling yourself.

    I know, let’s talk to Transit Security…you know, the Wackenhut guys? They take abuse at work to…many of them are graduates of the criminal justice program, most probably have more formal education then the drivers. Let’s see what kind of pension they get shall we? Let’s see what their hourly rate is. I’m just guessing here….but I’m willing to bet they have a few part timers on their staff too….

  54. Ruth says:

    I’m out of here. You people are hopeless.

  55. Tom D says:

    The 2007-2010 MCTS labor contract (which I discuss in post 14) feels like it was written during the 1920s or WW2 when transit actually made lots of money. Things like automatically getting time-and-a-half for any weekend work just seem ridiculous today.

    While that contract expired in 2010, I’m pretty sure all the provisions I mentioned have continued (and will be in the new contract as well).

    I’m unsure whether drivers get DOUBLE overtime by working an extra (unscheduled) weekend shift. For example, if a driver’s base pay is $24/hour, he gets $36 on Saturday (even if that is part of his regular 5-day workweek).

    But what happens if that driver works 9 hours on Saturday; does he get $36/hour for the first 8 hours and then $54 (time-and-a-half based on the “regular” $36 weekend pay rate) for the final (ninth) hour? And what happens if a driver (who normally has Saturday off) is called in? Does he get $54/hour for the entire shift?

    If drivers want longer end-of-run breaks (to use the bathroom, smoke, or use their cellphones), how about giving something back, like the 8-hour daily minimum (and time-and-a-half for anything over 8 hours)? Drivers would still have a 40 hour weekly minimum (with time-and-a-half over 40 hours).

    This would mean somebody working 6 hours one day and 10 the next would just be paid for the 16 hours actually worked (instead of 19 hours as in today’s contract). It would also allow somebody to be scheduled to work four 10-hour days which seems impossible (or very expensive) under the current contract.

    Driving a city bus is a difficult job and drivers deserve to be paid well. But overtime pay should be limited to extra hours actually worked.

  56. Tom D says:

    I’m surprised that nobody has pointed out that this 3-day strike ends on July 4—an MCTS paid holiday—and that it seems they are going back just in time for this extra day of pay.

    However, the 2007-2010 contract says holidays are paid only if “the employee works on the work days regularly scheduled before and after the holiday, unless a reasonable cause for not working is shown.” (§19.02) Does the union feel that striking constitutes “a reasonable cause for not working”? Or will the union insist on this as part of a new contract?

    Also, note that they are going back on Saturday, when all work is paid at time-and-a-half which makes the average hourly wage about $36.

  57. Tom D says:

    One addendum to my prior post. The time-and-a-half drivers get on weekends and holidays is IN ADDITION to the 8 hours of holiday pay they get.

  58. Timiri says:

    This strike is poltically movies two facts that aren’t being reported in the news

    1 leading up to it one of the county supervisors urged them to strike.

    2 on July 2 some strikers were seen with no justice no peace picket signs and the union. What does this message have to do with the strike.

    How ironic the strike ends just in time for them to collect holiday pay. What a joke.

  59. RMH says:

    I’m always puzzled by the outrage when workers receive pay or overtime that they NEGOTIATED for, and even more puzzled that people are bothered that they want a situation that is good for them and their families to continue, yet we’re told over and over again that the crazy bonus systems, stock options and golden parachutes are important for companies to keep the “best and the brightest” and to be able to “compete” when it comes to bankers, CEOs and other highly placed executives. I’m also amazed when I hear that that second group “earns” their generally very generous arrangements. You could not pay me to drive a bus. The crap I see them put up with from riders, from other drivers … the stress would make my head explode. The willingness of Americans to shit on each other while they support their overlords is a great puzzlement.

    The drivers are looking out for their best interest, which we’re told over and over again is the American way. Apparently, it’s only the American way if you wear a tailored suit. Their pay is a good, solid middle class pay level. You can raise kids on that pay. Good on them for fighting to maintain what they have.

  60. Ruth says:

    Thank you RMH! That is well said!

  61. AG says:

    Because RMH, unions that represent public servants tend to hold far too much sway in their negotiations, that is why people are incredulous at some of the provisions in these contracts. Regarding the rest of your post, I have three points to make.

    1. Private companies only pay their workers and executives as long as they can afford it. If they can’t afford it, they either cut pay/benefits or they have to lay people off. Otherwise they go out of business. Unions that represent public servants tend to believe their is an unlimited amount of resources and thus ask for things that far outweigh their worth (in my opinion).

    2. No one is taking any pay or benefits away from these bus drivers. In fact, they’re getting additional boosts above their normal pay increase AND improved benefits. Asking for 8% raises and expecting the county to continue the ridiculous amount of overtime by now allowing them to hire part time workers is ridiculous. They need some perspective.

    3. I ordered pizza hut Wednesday night and it took 2 hours to get the pizza. They informed me it was because almost half their crew had no bus to get to work and couldn’t find rides. I could care less about waiting for my pizza, but the fact that half their staff couldn’t work because of the entitled and selfish mindset of the drivers and their union really upsets me. I am SURE these Pizza Hut workers make far less money and rely on their paycheck way more than someone making sixty grand a year. Yet these workers are the ones who are suffering because the union decided to strike for selfish reasons.

    This union needs to get out from their hole and look around to face reality. This is why they’re receiving little support from the public. The public is never going to support this strike knowing there’s a pay raise and better benefits, including contributing less to their pension, on the table already.

  62. RMH says:

    So because franchise business owners exploit their employees and underpay them then screw the bus drivers? I for one am sick of the race to the bottom we’ve been pursuing for pretty much my entire adult life. Why are we always playing workers off against each other while more and more wealth is siphoned up? Oh, and I do understand that franchisees are squeezed by the rent-seeking corporations they bought latchkey businesses from, but the problem isn’t the workers.

    The bus drivers provide a vital service and are leveraging that to make sure they get the best deal they can. Again, I don’t understand why that’s okay for business owners and their never-ending demands for subsidies and tax breaks and other threats and whining but hard-working public servants are somehow monsters for standing up for themselves.

    As for “support from the public”, I ride the bus every day, several times a day. I heard little to no bitching from other riders either at the stops or on the busses in the days leading up to this, and rather heard several expressions of support for the drivers as people got on and off. All of the people I’ve heard bitching about the drivers has been from people who DON’T RIDE THE BUS. Those of us who do see every day the value of experience to our ride being smooth, calm and on time. Veteran drivers make a huge difference.

    My uncles were union members for several companies back in the day that made heavy equipment, and once the UAW surrendered on separate pay for new workers and hiring part-timers, their job security went down the dumper really fast, and they were all out of jobs within a decade.

    I don’t want a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears part time kids trying to learn the routes, deal w/ suburban a-holes in their SUVs at rush hour cutting in front of them and a more-and-more demanding, newly empowered management pushing to squeeze more “productivity” out of them. Yes, I know we’ve been promised that the part timers would be retired drivers, but I would bet good money that sooner or later that would go out the window and much less experienced people would be filling those spots.

    Seriously, this country, both nationally and state by state, has been pursing this no taxes, cut cut cut, shrink the private sector, privatize everything course for what, 40 years now? What do we have to show for it? Crumbling infrastructure, shrinking paychecks, stagnant growth, insecurity … I could go on. I grew up in IL, went through this exact same thing living under Republican administrations in CO, CT and NYC under Guiliani and Pataki. It left those places a wreck too, with parts of those state reduced to privileged playgrounds for the very very rich, and decaying messes for everyone else. I moved here at the insistence of my sisters, and got here just in time to watch WI start to fall for the same scam. The bus system and public services have been under constant assault from state legislators and Walker (and now that fake Donk Abele) and have declined all 12 years I’ve been here. I’m constantly amazed not only at how many people in this state grow up here and NEVER see the rest of the world, but how little many of you appreciate what your parents, grandparents and generations before them built for you. Take it from someone who’s lived all over the country, you have NO idea how nice this state is, and it’s heartbreaking to watch everyone cooperate in destroying it.

  63. Ruth says:

    Your comments are refreshing RWH! There are many people like myself who see what is happening here in WI and stand in solidarity with the drivers. There is a divide and conquer mentality which has infiltrated the the state and unfortunately it seems to be succeeding.

    Abele was on TV tonight saying he was going to give riders a free day on Monday. Abele the rich kid to the rescue!

    I’ve lived in WI most of my life and for many years the bus has been my only form of transportation.

  64. Paul says:

    Ruth, in your comment #42 , so you think no one shares their pay information with their co-workers because the company tells them not to. People get equal pay for equal work, it’s the law already, your comparing all men against all black or Hispanic women to come up with your BS stat

  65. Tom D says:

    Paul, I’ve worked on a payroll system where I actually knew the people we were paying and had a pretty good idea of each person’s skills and performance, and I can tell you there were astonishing variations in what people were paid. There were several instances of good, solid people making much less than others who just showed up but didn’t accomplish much.

    Nobody ever complained about these inequities because nobody knew anybody else’s salary.

  66. Ruth says:

    Tom D, I appreciate you sharing your direct experience with the issue of pay inequity.

    Paul, “In 2014 in Wisconsin, a woman who holds a full-time job was paid on average $36,884 per year while a man was paid $46,801, an annual wage gap of $9,917 between men and women who work full-time.

    White women on average are paid just 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. For women of color, the wage gap is even larger. On average, African-American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas are paid just 56 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man.”
    —from the National Partnership of Women and Families.

  67. Bill Sell says:

    Dear Jeramey

    Thanks for the brave attempt to keep up on the facts of the strike. I confess I am pro-union and so I have mixed feelings about this strike. And have long-held doubts about Mr. Macon’s leadership capacity. Hopefully the drivers will find a way to get a spokesperson to substitute for his muddling the message.

    The strike, in fact, was a strike against the owners of County Transit – property tax payers and riders, who have immediate, life-urgent needs, and depend on transit. As you know, I have worked in the middle between riders and drivers, even while our committee avoided taking sides in labor disputes. So I’ve seen it from both sides, and have often talked to drivers while commuting.

    Macon claims that MTS is shortening the bathroom breaks. From what drivers tell me, he has a point. Route #51 which had its share of schedule shifts with the changes around the Marian Center, may serve as an example. But the driver will claim that the schedule has been sped up, so the effect is felt in the layover break. In that sense Macon is correct, while Conway is correct about the policy, even while the management monitors driver compliance with on-time service. Faster buses equate with more riders.

    The strike is a distraction from two larger issues; and these other issues will affect county taxpayers. One, the toxic relationship between Board and Abele. The other, the dependence of the County on significant transit funding from the State. The former is a catastrophe for the virtues of representative government; we are seeing our representation at the County level whittled away or shifted to Madison, where the County is at the tender mercies of officials who hate Milwaukee. None of this bolsters the future of transit in Milwaukee, while we the people are allowing others to set us up for bickering among ourselves, for envy and mutual accusations, while County assets are being swiped by the guests. Next: the Marcus Center will be swiped (leaving liabilities and maintenance in our lap). We could look at MC Director Paul Matthews’ idea – a riverside office tower (with more parking) on what is now just a parking structure. There’s a story here, too, our fear or inability to invest in our assets, balanced against our careless oversight and willingness to give away our inheritances (parks, buildings). There is another way to supplement transit finances, and I will get to that at a later date.

    Had you known, I’m sure you would have photographed the picket line at KK and Mitchell. There were dozens of strikers at all the odd hours that I bike through that intersection. They were boisterous and were cheering the many car horns; irony alert, drivers are not exactly fans of buses anyway though realistically they should be; but the lot of them are workers facing diminishing returns on their productivity and will, for that reason, sympathize with the strikers. The intersection for your photo shoot at 17th and Fondy is not exactly a busy urban intersection. And it’s easy to understand why there were so many chairs per striker there; not so many at KK.

    Thanks for breaking out some of the information. I note that the headline may be construed to be preemptively anti-union (“myths…”). There is a larger story which I hope you can research and cover as well.

    Given JFC’s Motion 999, if that County provision passes, we can expect a lockdown of information as Mr. Abele continues his work dismantling County assets, and turning parks into private turf. The table is being set for millions of dollars of our assets going private. That is the Plan from the quiet folks in the backroom. Your challenge as our favorite reporter is to pierce the silence.

    Your fellow rider and colleague
    Bill Sell

  68. Paul says:

    Ruth, once again you are comparing apples to bananas, yes if you compare all women to all men in all different jobs you comments are true but that’s not what we’re talking about.
    Tom D, are you admitting to a violation of a federal law?

  69. Ruth says:


    It is true that women and men are often in different job categories. However, even for the same job, it had been shown that men are being paid more than women.

    The quote that I cited is from research put out by the National Partnership of Women and Families. Are you disputing the findings of an organization that does research on pay equity?

  70. Peggy Schulz says:

    This is likely a tiny contribution to this huge debate, but I thought it was worth it. I admit, though, I haven’t read all 60 of the existing comments here, so this might be redundant.

    The “150,000 riders” figure is meant to be “rides.” As in, single trips on the bus. So, that means, realistically, probably not much more than 75,000 riders in one day, assuming the vast majority of bus riders are leaving from home to at least one destination and then returning home. And, even then, most observers cut that figure down, knowing that a significant number of riders are taking four rides or more, not just to work and back, etc. That is, a lot of folks have to take two buses to get to their destination. And, how many riders have just one destination per day? I almost always have at least two places I want/need to go, in any single day.

    From my observations over the years, the figure of 45,000 riders per day has been fairly commonly used to illustrate, in part, the value of public transportation in Milwaukee County.

    I know this likely doesn’t help much, if at all. But it’s amazing what one letter — in this case, the second “r” in “riders” — can make.

  71. Tom D says:

    Paul (post 68):

    No, I’m not “admitting to a violation of federal law” because I wasn’t involved in setting salaries; I worked in IT maintaining the data and computer programs. Furthermore, I don’t understand what the federal law actually says. Besides, I retired from that job 17 years ago, well past any statute of limitations.

    If you truly believe women (and blacks) are paid identically to men (and whites), read this:

    For example, college professors were asked to evaluate (on paper) a supposed candidate for a laboratory manager post. Resumés for “John” averaged 4.0 (on a 0-to-7 scale for competence) while identical resumés for “Jennifer” only averaged 3.3. “John’s” suggested starting salary was $4,000 higher than “Jennifer’s”. Again, except for the name, both resumés were identical.

    In another study, fictitious resumés submitted for real job openings were 50% more likely to get a callback if they had a “white name” (like Greg or Emily) than if they had a “black name” (like Jamal or Lakisha). Other than the names, the resumés were identical.

  72. Tom D says:

    To further what Peggy Schulz (post 70) said: Many transit critics claim that counting rides rather than riders is a deliberate distortion—an attempt to inflate the number of people using transit.

    It’s not.

    All transportation data (whether it is cars using the Hoan Bridge, passengers at Mitchell, or taxi usage) measures one-way traffic. Traffic counts are even more misleading because of the ambiguous word “vehicle”. While transit statistics use “ride” (a one-way trip on a single bus) and “rider” (a human who uses transit on a given day), highway stats use the word “vehicle” for both.

    When we say “43,000 vehicles use the Hoan Bridge daily” we really mean the Hoan carries 43,000 one-way trips. When you consider that most cars make a daily round trip (and that some make several), the actual number of distinct vehicles on the Hoan drops by over half.

  73. Paul says:

    Tom D, your comment proves that liberal college professors will discriminate against people they would hire. The ones that preach equal rights are most times the biggest violators of them.

  74. Paul says:

    Ruth, I’m not disputing their data, like I stated before it has nothing to do with working the same jobs

  75. John says:

    Anybody that think the job is so easy and over paid. Come work all night on a holiday on the weekend. Come get called out your name everyday. When you stop the bus to go to the bathroom everybody late to somewhere. Deal with traffic. Deal with supervisor asking why you running late. Also though that whole article I saw nothing about how they are gutting the health insurance. Buy the way get eggs and rocks thrown at you and the bus get death threats. Is it worth the money. Get other people kids 15 and 16 years old cursing you out. It’s by far not a easy job. The money that is paid to a bus driver is well earned.

  76. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Public employees get better wages, bennies, vacations, retirement, pensions than the rest of us yet they pee on us when they feel like it.

  77. Ruth says:

    Wisconsin Conservative Digest,

    The gradual demise of unions is what has brought wages down. It is important that we support public employees, not point the finger at them. All employees need liveable wages.

    John, the bus drivers put up with alot nd deserve our respect!

    Paul, what does it have to do with then? Sounds like you think that women should never be paid the same as men.

    Tom D, thanks for the information about pay equity.

  78. Will says:

    @Ruth, I think the bus drivers need to start respecting the public and stop stealing unearned money. Oh, wait, I forgot, the union negotiated it with politicians that are on the union teet like John Weisan who literally outsources legislative duties to union leaders

  79. Ruth says:

    Wonder if you ride the bus. I did today and as usual the bus was crowded, with people standing in the aisles. The bus drivers do a difficult job and some still are able to be cheerful, while others are so worn down from what they have to deal with that they aren’t personally nice to passengers.

    UNIONS are responsible for so many things that we take for granted like the 8 hour work day, 40 hour work week, vacations, weekends, etc. etc. Keep your ears open for the outcome of the budget heading from Joint Finance to the full legislature then to the Governor which includes the “option” of working 7 days a week(no weekend).

    Your anger is directed in the wrong direction!

  80. Paul says:

    Ruth, I fully support the federal law we have that guarantees equal pay for equal work. Where did you come up with me being against this?

  81. Paul says:

    Ruth, if you’re so against people working weekends I hope you stay locked in your house every weekend using no services at all.

  82. Tom D says:

    Will (post 78), you blame the MCTS contract on “politicians who are on the union teet [sic]”.

    Back in post 14, I analyzed the MCTS 2007-2010 contract. I’d just like to point out that, if any politician is responsible for that contract, it would be Scott Walker, since MCTS is totally a County operation and Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive when that contract was negotiated in 2007-2008.

    Are you saying that Scott Walker was a union lackey when that contract was negotiated?

  83. Ruth says:

    Paul, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 did indeed become the law of the land but is weakly enforced. I urge you to contact your US senators and congressperson urging them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

    The Wisconsin legislature has been trying to eliminate weekends. The idea would be that there would be nothing in state law saying that workers are even entitled to 24 hours of rest. Currently, there is.

    Yes, many people work on weekends but usually part-time or as part thereofpart of a 40 week schedule.

  84. Paul says:

    Ruth, why create another law while we all ready have one.If you think this one isn’t being enforced there’s your fight. I’m still waiting for your answer on why you think I never want women paid the same as men

  85. RMH says:


    as per usual, you’re full of shit & talking out your ass. there are, of course, studies that prove the opposite.

    Keefe offered some suggestions for why these public employees are often perceived to be overcompensated. For starters, public sector workers are, as a group, more highly educated, work in more highly paid occupations and they tend to work moderately fewer hours than those in the private sector. In addition, it is frequently noted that public employees earn more in benefits such as health care and pensions: therefore, a simple wage comparison will not accurately capture difference in total compensation. Nonetheless, after controlling for multiple factors including level of education, hours worked and non-cash compensation, Keefe found that, on average, full-time state and local employees are undercompensated compared to “otherwise similar private-sector workers.”

    And yes, I understand that you’ll just impeach the source and insist that your belief is the “truth”.

  86. Tom D says:

    Paul (post 64) You seem to believe that people sometimes share their salary information with others, and that “equal pay for equal work” is the law.

    I just saw an article on this topic today.

    Somebody at Google posted her salary online and encouraged other to do the same. About 5% of Google’s workforce did so, and all hell broke out. She was called on the carpet, was denied small bonuses due her (although a white guy—this woman was black—did get bonuses for the same work) and eventually quit.

  87. Paul says:

    Tom D, I read your link and it seems everyone else received their bonuses, not just the white guy, she should take the manager that withheld her bonuses to court.. It doesn’t sound like it was a racial incident at all but that the manager was pissed at her setting up the site.

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