Bus Drivers Union Assails MCTS Leaders
"The fight is on," says union leader, as labor negotiations hit wall over health care coverage.
Negotiations are breaking down between the Amalgamated Transit Union 998 and the Milwaukee County Transit System.
The key issue in the contract showdown is healthcare. The union, at this point, refuses to make concessions on healthcare and increase their co-pay. Meanwhile, MCTS is pushing this point as a fiscal issue, and has said MCTS would cut routes if it doesn’t get the union membership to increase their insurance contributions.
In late March MCTS offered arbitration on the health care proposal to the ATU. The union refused. Earlier that month, union president James Macon told Urban Milwaukee he expected an offer of arbitration and that he had no plans to accept it unless MCTS was willing to send the entire contract to arbitration. Now, with the stalemate over healthcare, the union sees the offering of arbitration as an attempt by MCTS to extract a concession on wages in order for the union to preserve its healthcare.
Dan Boehm, managing director of MCTS, said, “We continue to honor the process that is negotiation. It’s damn near impossible when James Macon is supposed to be in charge, but that’s what we do.”
Beohm also questioned Macon’s true leadership of the union, saying Macon may be taking orders from leadership of the international union. A point Macon roundly denied. Javier Perez Jr., international executive vice president for ATU, echoed Macon, telling the committee that membership is in charge of the 998.
Macon and members of his union have long held that management at MCTS has been deceitful throughout the negotiation process. “I shoulda walked a long time ago and my members asked me to walk,” Macon said, adding that he declined because of the effect a strike would have on the public. “We kept the buses running and tried to negotiate.
Boehm said he and members of his management team want the best for the workers, a statement he could hardly get through without a chorus of “Lies” being issued from the union seated in the gallery.
The stalemate over healthcare has added more negativity to the already deteriorating union-management relationship; the union’s trust in management has been deteriorating for a while because of issues like safety on the buses. This conflict was exacerbated by the recent firing of Shemurath Green, a bus operator who was physically assaulted and fired for her own role in the physical altercation.
Green was hit in the face and had a soda can thrown at her. She was fired by MCTS, having sworn and thrown the soda can back at the woman. MCTS released a statement saying the behavior was “inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Also weighing on union trust is the sick leave policy of MCTS, which requires employees to get a note from a doctor explaining their illness before they can return to work. Macon said some workers have gone to the emergency room to get a note from a doctor so they can return to work.
With trust at such a tenuous point, the union feels arbitration would paint them into a corner and potentially force a concession on wages. Macon said he started negotiations from the position that the salaries accepted by the union were predicated on nothing important, like healthcare, changing. Michael Brown, a member of the ATU executive board, said MCTS has refused arbitration in the past when it would have provided leverage for the union, so the union is doing the same now.
Speaking to the committee, but addressing the county executive, an exasperated Macon said, “I’m not a county employee, I have the right to negotiate, you want a fight, bring your gloves, cuz the fight is on now.”
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.
- Transportation: Bus Union Authorizes a Strike - Graham Kilmer - Sep 6th, 2019
- Transportation: Bus Union Threatens Strike By Friday - Graham Kilmer - Sep 5th, 2019
- Transportation: Bus Union’s Budget Claims Disputed - Graham Kilmer - Sep 4th, 2019
- Abele Urges Bus Drivers to Settle Contract - Corri Hess - Aug 30th, 2019
- An Open Letter From County Executive Chris Abele to ATU Leadership - County Executive Chris Abele - Aug 29th, 2019
- ATU Local 998 Challenges MCTS 2020 ‘Budget Hole’ Projection - Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 - Aug 29th, 2019
- Way To Go, County Board! - Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 - Jul 11th, 2019
- MKE County: Abele’s Power Over County Transit Targeted - Graham Kilmer - Jul 11th, 2019
- Transportation: Group Pushes Higher Wheel Tax for Transit - Ana Martinez-Ortiz - May 23rd, 2019
- MKE County: Transit System Plans 10% Service Cut - Graham Kilmer - May 8th, 2019
Read more about 2020 MCTS Budget here