Milwaukee bus union members to hold three-day work stoppage

By Brendan O'Brien

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Bus drivers and mechanics in Milwaukee will take part in a three-day work stoppage starting on Wednesday morning after negotiations with transit system officials stalled over a new labor contract, union officials said on Tuesday.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 will stop working at 3 a.m. local time on Wednesday and return 72 hours later, union officials said.

"We had no intention to go out on strike, we wanted to sit down and talk," union president James Macon told a news conference.

An agreement was not reached during day-long negotiations on Tuesday between the Milwaukee County Transit System and union officials despite a federal mediator being present, according to local media.

"The union's decision means tens of thousands of people who rely on MCTS to get to work, school and doctors' appointments will have to find other transportation," the transit system said in a statement.

The work stoppage is also expected to cause headaches for thousands of music fans who plan to attend Milwaukee's Summerfest, one of the largest music festivals in the world. The 11-day festival draws about 900,000 people each year.

Transit officials said they proposed a four-year contract on Friday that would have maintained a current 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase per year and a 1 percent raise in 2017.

The transit system also would pay more of the employees' pension contributions, equally a 1.3 percent pay annual increase starting in 2016.

Ninety-three percent of union members voted on Monday against the proposed contract, that would require them to make larger monthly health care premium contributions.

The union also objects to the transit system's plan to hire part-time drivers, Macon said.

The transit system, which serves Milwaukee and some of the surrounding metro area, provides about 150,000 daily rides.

The last time Milwaukee bus workers went on strike was in 1978. That strike lasted 39 days.

In July 2014, about 5,400 workers of New York's Long Island Rail Road threatened to walk off the job before the transit authority and unions reached an agreement.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Ed Davies)