Graham Kilmer

Bus Union Authorizes a Strike

The union votes no on MCTS' final contract offer, gives leadership power to call strike.

By - Sep 6th, 2019 07:04 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.

The union representing the bus drivers and mechanics working for the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) voted Thursday to refuse a final contract offer from management, and the union president said its leadership will call a strike if necessary.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 (ATU) reported that 84 percent of its members voted against a final contract offer from MCTS. The members also voted to give their executive board authority to call for a work stoppage and strike. If the latter occurs, there will be no public bus service throughout Milwaukee County.

Statements from the leaders of MCTS and ATU show they are both willing to resume negotiations, but both parties are in stark disagreement concerning what may arise from their next meeting.

It’s time for MCTS to come back to the table and work honestly toward a fair contract that Milwaukee transit workers can accept in good conscience – one that has back pay and common sense security protections for drivers and riders,” said ATU 998 President James Macon

Meanwhile, Dan Boehm, MCTS president and managing director, said: “We’re disappointed, but not surprised, that ATU Local 998 rejected our offer because they’ve refused to acknowledge our fiscal constraints. Our offer included meaningful wage increases and a generous healthcare package.”

As Urban Milwaukee has reported, MCTS officials have been warning of a looming budget deficit. The latest estimate was an $8.7 million hole for the system. And this came approximately three months after transit system officials announced they would be cutting service by 10 percent in the face of a then estimated $6.4 million budget shortfall.

MCTS officials have said they cannot agree to a contract that costs more than their last offer without further cutting service. “ATU Local 998’s most recent counter-proposal would cost $5.5 million more plus additional back pay. In order to afford that, we’d have to double the amount of route cuts that are already proposed for 2020,” Boehm said.

The union, though, has been fighting MCTS on their projected budget deficit. Last week they circulated a press release attempting to cast doubt on the transit system’s financial situation. However, the independently-elected Milwaukee County Comptroller dismissed the numbers, saying it relied on incorrect assumptions about the underlying accounting practices in County Annual Financial Reports.

But union leaders continue to make this argument and have said their attorneys are seeking further financial records from the county, as they believe the transit system’s budget deficit is a negotiating ploy by management. And in their statement Thursday night, the union doubled down and said, “MCTS has been over projecting operating expenses for years to give the illusion of being broke to justify their attack on transit workers and riders. Let us be clear. ATU Local 998 members refuse to stand by and let County Executive Chris Abele and MCTS balance their manufactured budget deficit on the backs of transit workers and riders. Transit workers will strike if necessary.”

“Threatening a strike is a common negotiation tactic. We look forward to the next meeting with ATU,” said Boehm. In a statement, MCTS said ATU’s request to allow drivers to carry firearms was a “non starter.”

Whether or not public buses stop rolling in Milwaukee County will hinge on the next round of negotiations between MCTS and ATU.

The union last went on strike in 2015. The current contract expired in March 2018.

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More about the 2020 MCTS Budget

Read more about 2020 MCTS Budget here

Categories: Transportation

2 thoughts on “Transportation: Bus Union Authorizes a Strike”

  1. TransitRider says:

    Would a strike against MCTS also shut down the Hop?

  2. Lee Bitts says:

    TransitRider: No, the Hop is not part of MCTS. It’s operated by a company called Transdev and they have a contract to tun the Hop through December of 2023. So, the funding exists for that one.

    MCTS says it’s operating at a deficit. It’s too bad MCTS couldn’t acquire some of the Hop’s popularity. There’d be no funding issue then.

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