Rejected: 93% of transit union members vote down new contract, 92% vote YES for strike

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MILWAUKEE -- A new contract is on the table. But no agreement has been reached between Milwaukee County and its bus drivers. The two sides spent Friday, June 26th negotiating. 93% of transit union members on Monday, June 29th voted to reject the new contract being offered. A strike is not out of the question.

"The strike vote is 92% said go on strike. 93% voted the contract down," James Macon, Local 998 president said.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998

The drivers are part of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 998. The new four-year contract on the table would have increased the average drivers’ $62,000 pay (which includes overtime pay), and lowered pension contributions.

"All we ask is to be fair with us," Macon said.

Macon said Monday the union is not pleased with a provision in the current contract offer -- which allows for the hiring of part-time drivers. The part-time drivers would account for up to 15% of the workforce.

"So now you got less people paying into the pension and more people collecting, so guess what happens to your pension? It`s bankrupt," Macon said.

MCTS Communications Officer Brendan Conway responds this way, "The reality is, about part-timers, is we're talking about a very small number of part-time operators who would come back and cut down on the overtime. There'd still be plenty of overtime for operators."

The new contract being offered would have also cut pension contributions by 1.3%, while increasing pay 1% in 2017.

"It would say that the average bus driver who now makes $62,000 a year with overtime would make even more on top of that and all we`re asking for is a little bit more in health care and the ability to hire a small number of part-time operators," Conway said.

"The top driver only makes a little over $23 an hour, so when you calculate say $63,000, the $63,000 is because you`re doing major overtime that they forcing on you. It`s not the drivers that want to do all this overtime. It`s cause they short on drivers," Macon said.

Milwaukee County Transit System bus

Milwaukee County Transit System bus

If it is necessary, the strike would begin at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday. Transit service will continue Tuesday as scheduled.

The strike would begin early Wednesday if a last-minute agreement cannot be reached.

This contract vote comes at a difficult time.

"July 3rd is one of our busiest days of the year because of Summerfest and also the fireworks," Conway said.

Conway says it would be hard to find replacement drivers because they must have five weeks of training and a special license.

"If they chose to go on strike we would have no service at all," Conway said.

Conway says negotiations have shifted to include some focus on contingencies -- should a strike start.

"We hope they don't," said Conway. "But if they do choose to strike, that they would at least commit to do all of their shift, on Tuesday -- which would end about 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning. And then we could at least be prepared in that way."

The next step involves both sides meeting with a mediator on Tuesday. Union representatives say that would be an opportunity to reach a deal ahead of a possible strike.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 has more than 1,000 members. They’re part of the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the U.S. and Canada. It is composed of bus drivers, light rail operators, maintenance and clerical personnel.


  • von

    If there is a lot of OT, then why not hire a few more FT drivers? PT drivers would not be dependable or safe.

    • greggry

      The reason they wont hire full time drivers is simple. Its cheaper to pay 1.5 and double time than to hire a new driver. The bus has to have a driver, and paying 1.5 time for a already hired driver costs less that paying a new driver 18-24 a hour plus their benefits. Essentially the driver working overtime is only costing the city 12$ more a hour to run the bus. Hiring another full time employee will cost the city 18-24 a hour, plus benefits. The benefits cost a lot more than 12$ a hour the overtime costs, not to mention the liability insurance money saved. By hiring part time employees they bypass many of the expensive costs of a full time employee (health insurance, benefits, pension, etc) along with justification of paying the part time worker much less per hour. Part time help can allow the city to better balance the budget however the turnover will be higher and the quality of worker will be less.

      The bus system needs dedicated hard working people that know routes and show up to work inorder to function properly. Running the bus system with a bunch of part time people will reduce the quality of the bus service. People stay as bus drivers because the pay and benefits are good enough to make a career out of the job. Remove the pay and benefits and the incentive to stay/show up/etc goes away.

    • July

      The union wouldn’t have a problem with Full time drivers, county wants to hire part time employees which means no benefits, and less people paying into the pension is more a problem. I am wondering if the union takes care of training, which if you have 3 part time workers, training three would cost more than one full time. Not to mention, part timers generally don’t stay as long as full time workers do so they would be probably training 6 to 9 employees at least
      over the period that the one full time worker would be working.

    • get real

      $62,000 per year on average? And they are still not happy ?
      In 5 or 6 weeks we could have new hires ready to go for maybe $45,000 per year.
      I think this is a no brainer.
      With 93 million people out of jobs, replacement workers should not be a problem.

      • Justin

        It actually says right in the article, that I’d expect you to read before commenting, that the top earning drivers make $23/hr, which is $46k/yr, and that the other 16k/yr would be overtime that MCTS is paying.

  • Josh P

    The greed of the bus drivers is going to really damage the Milwaukee economy when people lose their jobs because their only mode of transportation is gone…

  • Natetreya McClain

    I understand where the bus driver’s are coming from, but then again this whole situation is very selfish to others. Like me for example, the Milwaukee County transit is my ONLY transportation. I have a job, I have bills to pay, etc. But did the drivers even think about people like me who depends on the city bus daily .!? I don’t think so, this whole thing is wrong just give them what there asking for.

    • MelissaK

      Absolutely not. If they strike, immediately replace union workers with non-union drivers and keep the system running for ALL. Don’t give in to these union strong arm threats anymore.

  • wtf

    Well a new Nurse might make $25 an hour…and have no pension..and pay about $200 plus towards benefits. .have student loans to pay. .I think $23 is an awesome wage…and with low cost benefits…and a pension. Wow…if the union dues cost too much…a month…I say start training the new drivers. .and in 5 weeks problem solved..cant the cab drivers drive buses…maybe uber.or truck drivers with cdls

  • Hell in a handbasket

    Time for Chris Abele to show his leadership and fire these drivers if they strike. Shut the bus system down for 5 weeks and hire/train their replacements. Then these drivers will take that contract in a heartbeat rather than be unemployed with no pension ever. Show these taxpayer funded unions they do not call the shots.

    • Croptastical!

      Five weeks? Are you HIGH???
      and… they DO call the shots. And if the teachers would have walked, they would have put Walker right in his place where he belongs instead of what we have now.

      • Hell in a handbasket

        “Conway says it would be hard to find replacement drivers because they must have five weeks of training and a special license.” He must be high too.
        Of course you would blame Governor Walker, why don’t you blame Bush too.

    • KristineK

      No shut down is needed. There are other competent drivers already out there. They should have drivers lined up to immediately take over those routes should they selfishly go on strike. Then fire the lot of them and replace them, permanently. No reason to give into unions anymore or their scare tactics.

    • James

      Seriously!! Do you know how many people will lose their jobs if the bus system is shut down for 5 to 6 weeks. Do you really think these greedy companies care how their employees get to work? They will fire them all and replace them with people who has their own transportation.

  • Croptastical!

    Hate Unions?
    If it’s so easy, YOU DO IT.
    Truckers make $50k, and don’t have to deal with passengers (or Summerfest drunks).

  • MelissaK

    They are bus drivers. If they are willing to make 100’s of people lose their jobs (as many companies have no tolerance policies for missing work), then fire all the ones who strike and replace them with some of the hundreds of unemployed people who would LOVE to have a stable job, period.

  • Opinion8d

    So the Union Rep has admitted that the Pension is a Ponzi scheme?? Hiring a limited amount of part-timers would mean not enough paying into the pension fund and it would go bankrupt?? Scare tactics = union

    This is the problem with Unions -normal common sense business decisions are hampered by their ‘rules’. It’s a 4 year contract- if the part-time workers are more hassle than they’re worth, I’m sure management would be happy to get rid of them. However, they need the flexibility to run their business. Of course, since it relies heavily on taxpayer funding, a lean business isn’t very important in anyone’s eyes.

  • MelissaK

    I want to know how much the union management is pocketing off these suckers!? If you are willing to cause others to lose their jobs, then you are WRONG!

  • DK


  • lynda nowak

    Replace them and see how much they like working at McDonalds or Taco Bell for $7.00 per hour as opposed to $60,000.00+ [per year].

  • Lewis Poberezny

    if the union president is leading the negotiations there will probably never be an agreement. Just look how he presents himself at the news conference… I would not want a hot head like him in my corner..

  • Peter Dunne

    FINALLY a union that has some moxy. You don’t like the offerings from your company, you have the right to strike. That is why you pay union dues. I give you all a pat on the back for excercising your right to strike! I’m with you on this my fellow union members. I wish you a speedy resolution to your contract and commend your actions!

  • sammi stuty

    These UNGRATEFULL people should be laughed at. 23 dollars an hour to drive in circles is MORE than enough, yet they strike even with a pay increase?? THIS IS CRAZY!!!! Half the drivers can’t be counted on in the first place. Milwaukee should’ve hired back up drivers and let these ungreatefull people count on the union to support them. THIS IS WHY THE UNION ERA IS OVER. Its purpose gets USED.

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