Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) drivers walked off the job at 3 a.m., beginning a 72-hour strike. Union officials declared that the “work stoppage” will run through 3 a.m. Saturday.
MCTS spokesman Brendan Conway said in a statement, “ATU leaders called for a work stoppage despite significant attempts and concessions from MCTS during a daylong negotiation session.”
MCTS officials, along with union delegates, met with a federal mediator most of the day Tuesday. However, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 members rejected the transit system’s latest offer Monday and voted to strike. Union Vice President Rick Bassler said members are opposed to plans to hire part-time drivers, among other issues. Transit officials responded by offering concessions and agreeing to cap the number of part-time workers.
“Today, when push came to shove, they asked for $8 million over two years, so I guess the question would be for them, ‘Why have you been telling everybody it's not about the money. Why did you approach the county executive last week and yell, “It's not about the money.” And you just asked for more money.'’ I mean, if was about the money, be honest about it, but I think that they are trying to publicly bargain for some reason,” Conway said. "Just be honest. You make good money. Fine. We're not begrudging you that. We're going to give you a raise. We were just asking you to pay a little more for your health care.”
The latest contract offer from MCTS included a 7.6% raise over the next two years, including a cost of living adjustment. Hourly wages would increase from $23.78 to $24.45 in two years. Union workers were also asked to pay for more health care.
Transit managers said they offered concessions in that area as well, offering to match up to $1,000 in flexible spending accounts. The system has about 150,000 riders a day. This is the first MCTS bus driver strike since the late 1970s.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he's disappointed in the union's decision. “Taxpayers ride the bus over 150,000 times every single day. In choosing to strike, ATU is punishing County residents that rely on bus service,” Abele said.
The union would not stipulate if the Saturday return to work is just for the holiday weekend or whether the buses would run beyond the Fourth of July.