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Milwaukee Co. bus drivers authorize possible strike

NOW: Milwaukee Co. bus drivers authorize possible strike

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UPDATE (9/6): James Macon, the transit union president, says he feels like the union has leverage if negotiations continue with the Milwaukee County Transit System.

In addition to having the ability to call a bus driver strike, Macon says MCTS has extra money it could be using to either raise wages or restore bus routes.

MCTS projects a budget deficit in 2020.

Scott Manske, Milwaukee County's comptroller, is essentially the county's chief financial officer. He knows the numbers, and he doesn't have a dog in this fight.

Manske says it's not as much as Macon and the union claim, but there was a budget surplus in 2018.

"Now there's numbers out there to back up what we've been saying all along, that there's money there to take care of the service, take care of everything," Macon said.

Macon insists he would like to continue negotiating with MCTS and doesn't want to go on strike.

The union would not be able to strike until negotiations are complete, which has not happened yet.

The last time there was a strike was in 2015.

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The transit workers union voted to reject the Milwaukee County Transit System’s latest contract offer Thursday, and now the possibility of a bus driver strike is in play.

The county has said this contract was its final offer.

For 18 months, negotiations have been ongoing between MCTS and the union, which represents bus drivers, mechanics and other staff.

Some of the points the two sides have been unable to reach agreement on include wages, benefits and driver security.

Accordingly, 84 percent of the union’s members who voted rejected the contract.

In a separate vote Thursday, union members authorized leadership to strike if necessary.

“We’re willing to go back to the table,” said James Macon, the union president. “We’re not trying to shut down the city. Nobody wants to go on strike but [the county] will force us if we have to.”

An MCTS spokesperson says there’s no immediate threat of a strike because there’s a formal process the union would have to go through that takes time.

Still, members of the rank and file are prepared to walk off the job.

“Stand up for my rights, stand up for my future. I’m ok with it,” said James McKnight, an MCTS driver. “My healthcare, my job, my security, my union - I’m standing for it. I’m not backing down.”

In a statement, Dan Boehm, the president of MCTS 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.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.Threatening a strike is a common negotiation tactic. We look forward to the next meeting with ATU.

Macon says another tactic the union might consider before striking is taking the county to court for allegedly bargaining in bad faith, which would be an unfair labor practice.

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