Graham Kilmer

Bus Union Threatens Strike By Friday

Union leader predicts a strike, but some workers likely to favor contract being offered.

By - Sep 5th, 2019 09:51 am
A Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus from Gillig. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus from Gillig. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Leadership for the bus drivers union is threatening a strike as early as tomorrow.

The Amalgamated Transit Union 998 (ATU) votes today on the final contract offer made to them by the Milwaukee County Transit Service. Union President James Macon has repeatedly spoken against approval of the contract.

MCTS delivered the final contract offer in early August. In this contract they made concessions to the union, like dropping a co-insurance proposal and reducing the maximum out-of-pocket health care contributions they were asking for.

Still, the union isn’t happy with the contract and wants to restart negotiations. At a meeting of the Milwaukee County Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee union leaders told the committee they didn’t think the contract would be approved in Thursday’s vote, and said that a strike will soon follow if negotiations do not resume.

Despite the concessions made on health care, bus operators are not satisfied with the contract offer. Wage increases in the contract, according to Macon and Donnell Shorter, a member of the ATU executive board, are not enough and outstanding issues, like safety, have dampened employee morale.

“I don’t think the contract will pass and a lot of it has to do with morale,” Shorter told the committee. Shorter said the pay raise being offered “isn’t great at all,” adding that with better morale the drivers might have been able to swallow that pill.

The union will take two votes on Thursday. One being an up or down vote on the contract, the other an up or down on whether to provide the executive board with the authorization to call a strike. “As of tomorrow I gotta decide whether there’s gonna be any bus service in the city of Milwaukee on Friday Morning,” Macon said. The union last went on strike in 2015.

If the union strikes, negotiations will be at an impasse and MCTS will de facto enforce the contract. But the union leadership wants to go back to the negotiating table. However, MCTS won’t make any concessions that increase the cost of the contract.

Still, leadership told the committee of their certainty the union would vote down the contract. “We will vote this down,” Macon warned the committee. “It’s gonna get voted down because the drivers are very displeased.”

There is a faction in the union that may support the contract, despite union pressure. Under the contract, mechanics will see a significant pay raise, one that will be hard to walk away from. Nate Holton, lead negotiator and director of diversity and inclusion for MCTS, said MCTS mechanics are currently underpaid relative to the market, so they need to raise wages to stop attrition.

Bruce Colburn, a retired bus operator and former president of ATU 998, told the committee, “Think about what’s gonna happen in the next few days. Tomorrow will be an important, if not crucial day in the history of the Milwaukee County Transit System.”

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