MCTS bus drivers strike, service suspended until 3 a.m. July 4th

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MILWAUKEE -- Bus service in Milwaukee County has been suspended. Workers went on strike at 3 a.m. Wednesday, July 1st after they couldn't reach a contract agreement with Milwaukee County. The strike is set to continue until 3:00 a.m. Saturday, July 4th.

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS bus drivers strike

Milwaukee County bus drivers were on the street on Wednesday -- manning the picket lines instead of driving buses.

But leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 998 say they’re not calling this a strike. Instead, they’re calling it a “work stoppage.”

Transit Union strike“This is not a strike. It is a work stoppage. We will be conducting a work stoppage at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 for a period of three days,” Rick Bassler, ATU Local 998 vice president said.

Union leaders say all ATU employees will be taking part in this “work stoppage” that will continue for 72 hours. This, after union members and Milwaukee County representatives sat down with a federal mediator for six hours on Tuesday to try to come up with a last-minute deal to avoid a strike.

"It wasn't us that wanted to put the passengers in jeopardy. Or the services in jeopardy. We could have had the buses online," James Macon, ATU Local 998 president said.

We're told there have been 10 meetings between Milwaukee County representatives and Local 998 leaders. Still, there are many sticking points, and a contract agreement has not been reached.

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS bus drivers strike

“We are not trying to stop service. The company is stopping service. This could have been over (Tuesday) if they would have been willing to go to arbitration. So the question is not to ask to me. The question needs to be asked to the county executive,” Macon said.

"We don't have interest in going to arbitration.  We have limited tax dollars.  An arbitrator doesn't look at your fiscal future," Brendan Conway, MCTS spokesman said.

"I`m for the passengers. We all are. We like the passengers we want to service them. And we sympathize with them, but our hands are tied. It`s time some of these problems are addressed," David Wasechek, an MCTS bus driver said.

Transit Work Union Stoppage Hotline

Union leaders say they were not offered a fair contract — blaming Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who said Tuesday: “The final, added concessions represent our last, best offer. Anything more than this is unsustainable in our county budget and would be irresponsible to the taxpayers we serve.”

“When push came to shove, we said ‘what can we do to solve this?’ They said, ‘here — you need to give us $8 million more over two years,'” Conway said.

In a news release, MCTS officials said the following:

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 998 leaders have called for a work stoppage despite significant attempts and concessions from MCTS during a daylong negotiation session.

The union’s decision means tens of thousands of people who rely on MCTS to get to work, school and doctor’s appointments will have to find other transportation. The strike will also shut down Summerfest service that tens of thousands of people rely on every day to get to the Big Gig.

MCTS presented a contract proposal on Friday that would have increased bus drivers and mechanics pay in exchange for some health care concessions. The average MCTS bus driver will make more than $62,000 this year in salary and overtime.

In an attempt to avoid a strike, MCTS made significant concessions to the union, including:

  • A matching $1,000 Flexible Spending Account for employees to help offset modest increases in healthcare costs. The previous proposal was $500.
  • Capping the amount of part-time drivers MCTS will hire.
  • Some flexibility for how mechanics use their personal time.

Despite numerous recent statements from union leaders that their contract dispute was not over money, the union came to the bargaining table (Tuesday) to ask for $8 million in increased wages.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele issued the following statement Tuesday evening:

Although County Executive Abele is disappointed in (Tuesday's) decision by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) to reject a reasonable contract offer and strike, he is confident that a deal will soon be agreed to that respects both transit workers and taxpayers.

“The Milwaukee County Transit System is a critical tool for economic development and self-sufficiency, and I am proud of our record of maintaining routes and excellent service without raising fares,” County Executive Abele said. “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.”

Proposed Contract Facts:

  • The average MCTS bus driver makes more than $62,000 per year in salary and overtime.
  • Between cost of living increases, pay increases, and pension contribution decreases, ATU members would see a salary increase of up to 3.3% in the first year with an additional 1% increase to base pay on top of that in the second year. Additionally, ATU members were offered a $1,000 employer matching contribution to their Flexible Spending Accounts during negotiations.
  • The net compensation increase (salary and benefits) for ATU members over the next two years is $3,580 for workers with an individual healthcare plan and $2,848 for workers with a family healthcare plan.

In a time when state transportation funding has been flat and federal funding has declined, ATU members rejected multiple contract compromises that increased overall compensation while allowing for the continuation of full transit services, stable fares, and respect for county taxpayers.

Throughout negotiations, the county has and will continue to remain focused on one outcome only – the best service for transit riders now and in the future. The emphasis is on providing a high quality transit system while modernizing and expanding services.

“From low income workers to Summerfest attendees, the ATU’s decision to strike has far reaching consequences for the people of Milwaukee County,” Abele said. “To be clear, the final added concessions (Tuesday) represent our last, best offer. Anything more than this is unsustainable in our county budget and would be irresponsible to the taxpayers we serve.”

"Not only did they say 'that's not good enough,' they rejected everything we offered," Conway said.

Milwaukee County Transit System bus

Milwaukee County representatives say they're offering a 7.6% pay increase for drivers over two years.

Union leaders say part of that pay increase comes from the county taking over some of the drivers' pension payments and another portion from the cost of living increase.

"You've got a pension that you want to change that is basically one of the best in the country. Why? It doesn't make sense," Macon said.

Union leaders say if it was a straight pay increase, things might be different.

"I can get that passed and have the buses rolling," James Macon, Local 998 president said.

Other issues include how many part-time drivers the county would hire, and the length of bathroom breaks for drivers.

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS bus drivers strike

"Our issues are not about money. Our issues are about working conditions and basically keeping our pension going," Macon said.

"If they want to see their fares raised and their routes cut and they're okay for bus drivers who make $62,000 a year to get a 7.6% raise over two years," Conway said.

Sharon Lewis is an MCTS bus driver.

“We see these people every day. We care about these people. It`s Abele that doesn`t care. They don’t give a crap about the average Joe,” Lewis said.

“We need to have a sustainable transit system that will continue to run for those who need it,” Conway said.

Conway says MCTS attempted to offer concessions during Tuesday’s mediation, but union officials walked out.

“It was the same stuff that we voted (Monday) night to vote down but they just twisted the numbers. There was no gain,” Macon said.

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS bus drivers strike

On Monday, Local 998 members voted to reject MCTS' latest contract offer, and to strike. The vote Monday night was 93% to reject the new contract being offered, and 92% in favor of a strike.

MCTS and Local 998 leaders are not currently negotiating because the mediator is out of town.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb says there's an easy solution -- let an independent arbitrator decide which side is right.

"I'm worried we are essentially wasting three days.  I don't know why we are not in a room today. If his deal is such a good deal, and theirs is so bad, then an arbitrator should look and see which is a fair and reasonable deal," Lipscomb said.

Union leaders say they wanted to go into interest arbitration Tuesday, where an impartial arbitrator would make the final decisions, but county officials said no.

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS bus drivers strike

In speaking about the strike on Wednesday, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he wants bus drivers back on the job.

"The riders -- they pay for a service to get to work.  They didn't do anything wrong.  I can't offer more without pulling from some other service the taxpayers are paying for,  and I'm not going to do that," Abele said.

We're told the mediator is unavailable next week as well, so it's unclear when talks could pick back up. But Local 998 leaders said Tuesday they intend to lift the strike and get drivers back to work on Saturday at 3:00 a.m.

MCTS bus drivers plan to rally on Thursday at the Milwaukee County Courthouse at 5:00 p.m.

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS bus drivers strike

MCTS has about 150,000 passenger rides a day. This is the first MCTS bus driver strike since the late 1970s.

MCTS spokesman Brendan Conway says all new and updated information in the coming days will be available to the public at or by calling 414-988-5966.

This strike includes MCTS Route 143 that serves Ozaukee County and MCTS Route 6, 61 and 279 that serve Waukesha and Washington Counties.

Paratransit service is available during the strike for passengers who are eligible. For questions call 343-1700 or visit

MCTS will continue to hand out the GO Pass to eligible seniors and persons with disabilities. For more on the pass please visit

CLICK HERE for further coverage of the transit strike via


    • Croptastical!

      Fricken useless county government. Just be happy you have that $12 an hour job with no bennies, right?

      • KristineK

        Idiot. $62K plus benefits and pension for someone with a high school diploma is EXCELLENT! Many more will gladly take those jobs.

      • R

        A master’s degree doesn’t make $63k a year. But I’m glad we have Milwaukee’s highly educated, well spoken individuals behind the wheel of a bus. And their leadership pushing the point by striking on the busiest day of the year. You know what? Fire ’em all, hire new people off the street. SEND ALL THOSE UNION RATS PACKING.

      • JP79

        If you dont like the wage you make at your job get a different one, just like the fast food workers. Unions support the lazy, too lazy to look for other work or speak for your self…. Down with the Unions!

      • Ronnie

        Conservatives are being pretty rude on fox 6. Stop dividing black and whites and the community. If you dont like free speech stop posting your own crazy politics

  • Croptastical!

    HEY CHANNEL 6… “The average MCTS bus driver makes more than $62,000 per year in salary AND overtime.”
    Why don’t you tell us what an ENTRY LEVEL DRIVER MAKES (and the lousy routes and hours THEY get).
    This is EXACTLY the point that the Union president was trying to make yesterday. Why do you ALWAYS side with big business? Why do you slant every union story against the working man?

    • MelissaL

      When you cause others to lose their jobs because you are not happy making well above what someone who simply drives a bus should make, then you are WRONG! $62K, benefits and a pension is well above the average salary, even for someone with a degree!

    • Hell in a handbasket

      @Craptastical. What is your point? Entry level jobs should pay the same and have premium routes not in the hood? And then you accuse Fox 6 NOT SUPPORTING a union? Fox 6 loves you liberal union members.

  • Sue

    Why are you saying this is a work stoppage? Call it what it is, a STRIKE. Work stoppage is when an act of nature makes people not go to work. This a choice of people of people to not go to work all at the same time after a union vote. Every other manufacturing plant that has stopped work after a union vote has been called a STRIKE. Stop trying to sway the publics view.

  • KristineK

    Fire every one of them! Many more people who would be happy with their salary and benefits! Many people will now lose their jobs because of these simply bus drivers. Chris Abele is WEAK!

  • really

    entry level is just that every job has entry level a nurse, and engineer, everyone has to pay their dues and work their way up… and i guess that would mean the lousy routes too.. quit the crying,, man up these are good basic jobs, no college education required as evidenced by the poor english spoken by some of the union members on TV was hysterical doubt if they even finished high school with grammer like that really

    • JoelMar

      Exactly. County needs to hire new drivers immediately and get rid of the union. Many other HS graduates will be HAPPY to make $62,000 plus benefits and a nice pension for driving a bus.

  • Reasonless

    This is terrible news.
    Because of this, crime will go down at the Germantown WalMart, and Germantown will have to lay off a cop.

  • Concerned

    For a free ride, download Uber on your smartphone and enter promo code DBEV9. Can be used 1x per person, $20 value. You can estimate your ride prior to requesting the ride.

  • Gary

    I have to wonder how much of the offset and flex account money goes into the drivers pockets after the rise in health coverage costs. Are they actually getting a raise or is it being ducked up. Also I have to wonder what types of raises have the non union management staff been getting. This should all be public record. Fox 6 can you please let us know what types and percentage of raises management staff have been getting. I would as a taxpayer like to know this, also what the salaries, pensions, and college degrees management has. I would like to be able to compare these two seeing my taxpayer money pays both the bus operator and management. This way as a taxpayer I can make a better decision and view point on this situation.

  • Opinion8d

    Getting back to work on the 4th???? Must be double time for weekend and Holiday time….how convenient!!!


    Drive…stop…drive…stop…drive…stop…drive…stop Ya, sounds like a very cerebral occupation that warrants above average pay and benefits. Bus drivers are a step above McD employees. You’re not curing cancer, you’re driving a bus. That’s it. Not repairing it, planning routes, or budgeting to buy additional buses. Just drive…stop…drive…stop…drive…stop

  • chris

    They should continue the work stoppage until the workers are satisfied with their contract. For those of you who have a hard time comprehending what was written – the AVERAGE salary WITH OVERTIME – is $62K. Bus drivers deserve every penny they earn – plus more for all the crazies that get on the bus. GO UNION!!!

  • Amy M

    Did the bus driver talk about Abele? Does she not know that she’s an employee of a private company, not the county? It sounds like the unions have been giving the drivers false information.

  • JP79

    Way to get people on your side…. Unions are great for the Country, not our Country but China and Mexico love the Unions that drove big Companies out of the US due to Union Labor driving the wages way too high.

    F.U. Unions, Right To Work

  • Boba

    The company is lying about an 8% raise. Use your common sense. Who in their right mind would turn down an 8% raise. The company was looking to cut again for the tenth year in a row. A driver gets a four minute layover to “try” to use a bathroom. When a driver pulls up to their layover they MUST load passengers that are there first. You do not even get the four minutes they promise. Do none of you at all care that the company tells the drivers not to enforce the fare collection? Everyone on here paying taxes picks up that bill. It is constant and it is a lot of money. This is the same company that fired a worker for going to the aid of a woman who was getting assaulted by a group. He saved the woman. And got fired for doing so. He didn’t get his job back until three months later only after the media caught attention of it. If you use the bathroom and do not call in, you will get written up. The company will write up a driver if they stop to pick up a rider who is not at an official bus stop IF anything happens to the rider or bus during the stop. The company has not given any type of raise in ten years and has made the employees pay more and take less benefits. Overtime is forced and not optional. Drivers do not know their work schedule until 4pm the day before. And this is everyday. You have to call in everyday to find out your hours. There are no set hours. You could end up with split shifts. Which is common. You may have to start at 3,4, or 5am work for 2 or 3 hours and have to come back 3-5 hours later to finish your shift. When on overtime, they will force you to come back to work 7hours after the driver finishes their work for the day. Meaning if you get off at 2am they can and have forced people to come back at 9am. And that is after having just work a 16-18 hour day. Yes it happens. Turn over is huge. They are always hiring. Go apply and see for your self what they put up with.

  • JoelMar

    Fire every one of them! Many unemployed people would be happy with that salary and benefits! Many people will now lose their jobs because of these simply bus drivers. $62K for driving a fricken bus?! Are you kidding me? Get rid of the union and fire the drivers!

  • Juan Garcia (@JuanGarcia911)

    I’m sorry but the bus drivers should be happy they make that much money. All they do is driver a bus around the city. It’s not like they’re doing manual labor. This is the most ridiculous strike in history. A bunch of greedy individuals is all I see.

Comments are closed.