Graham Kilmer

Transit Union Stages Rally

Calls for contract to include to backpay and driver security measures, and for the restoration of bus routes.

By - Sep 22nd, 2019 01:55 pm
Amalgamated Transit Union 998 Rally. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Amalgamated Transit Union 998 Rally. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Transit workers rallied Friday outside Milwaukee County Transit System headquarters in a show of solidarity, having voted down a contract from the company earlier this month.

Contract negotiations between management and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 (ATU) are expected to resume in early October. In what was supposed to be the company’s final contract offer, they made concessions on healthcare by dropping a provision calling for co-insurance and reducing the out-of-pocket maximums and premiums for employees from their last proposal. ATU voted to reject the contract on the grounds that it did not address backpay or the union’s safety concerns. And, though it’s not part of the labor contract, the union has staunchly opposed the cuts to transit service that were proposed by MCTS in May.

The day before the rally, County Executive Chris Abele announced he had redirected approximately $4 million to mitigate a 10 percent service cut across the system. Now, according to the Director of Performance, Strategy and Budget Joseph Lamers, there will only be approximately $1.8 million worth of transit cuts to the system in Abele’s 2020 budget proposal.

Bruce Colburn, a retired bus driver and former ATU president, told the crowd that “Chris Abele blinked,” and reduced the cuts after pressure from the community.

At noon Friday, MCTS mechanics used their lunch hour to march with their fellow transit workers. The crowd issued shouts of “No Contract, No Peace,” call and responses “Who Moves Milwaukee?, We Move Milwaukee!” At one point a poster of County Executive Chris Abele was held up at the podium drawing boos from the crowd.

The rally was a draw for labor representatives and elected officials. Union members and organizers showed up from Chicago’s ATU 241, IWW, AFL-CIO, MASH and United Steelworkers. Local elected officials also showed up to support the union: County Supervisors Steven Shea, Supreme Moore Omokunde, Eddie Cullen, John Weishan, Jr., Common Council members Tony Zielinski and Robert Bauman, State Reps. Christine Sinicki and JoCasta Zamarripa.

Michael Brown, bus operator and member of the ATU executive board, said backpay is a major issue for the union as it heads back into negotiations. Contract negotiations have been going on since March 2018. And the union wants the raises in the new contract to be applied to all the months the union has worked without a contract in place.

Also, safety remains a topline issue for the union. In the past, President James Macon has proposed arming drivers with guns or pepper spray. The union has often derided the security officers provided by MCTS. In June, the county board looked at using Sheriff’s Deputies for transit security and found it would cost an additional $4.2 million annually. At the rally, bus operator Joyce Jones said, security was better in years past when law enforcement was in charge of transit security.

In a letter to Macon from Sep. 4, Abele asked the president not to strike over their security proposal, saying, “Instead, I ask that you allow for my proposed taskforce to move forward which would convene MCTS administration, drivers, and bus riders to take a serious look at safety concerns and make recommendations to increase safety.”

Several union leaders mentioned that route cuts remain a sticking point for union. While addressing the crowd, Brown mentioned the Jobline routes that brought Milwaukee residents to jobs in Waukesha County. “Damn’t gimme my 57 route back so the people can get to work.”

Since the contract vote in early September, union leadership has had the authorization from its membership to call a work stoppage. So, while negotiations are expected to resume, the threat of a strike is not gone.

“We not going anywhere until we get this contract settled, and they bring back all of the routes, not some of them, all of the routes,” Macon said.

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2 thoughts on “Transportation: Transit Union Stages Rally”

  1. Lee Bitts says:

    They’ll never allow bus drivers to be armed with pepper spray or guns.

    Our society expects its citizens to protect themselves without the use of weapons of any kind. I wonder what it would be like if our military took this approach to combat. Just take a run and hide approach to engagement in combat.

  2. sbaldwin001 says:

    A quick search gives the following information:

    The average salary of a Milwaukee County Transit System bus driver is approximately $46,000/year with some as low as $21,000 and some as high as $80,000. (Source:,-Wisconsin).

    The average salary of a MCTS security officer is approximately $26,000 to $34,000 per year. (Source:

    Both of these positions come with substantial benefits. The article does not include information about potential raises.

    I wish these facts had been included in the article.

    Having said all this, I support the union’s desire for better security, and I think County Executive Abele and many others share their concern. On the other hand, the continuance of routes which are not cost effective does nothing to give the county room for additional security measures or raises. Milwaukee County is in a fiscally tight position. Businesses and employees that depend on routes that are unsustainable will need to devise alternate transportation plans that may, or may not, include the county.

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