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TMCNet:  Racine bus strike strands medical patients

[August 18, 2008]

Racine bus strike strands medical patients

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 18--A bus strike in Racine left riders stranded without notice this morning. Curtis Garner, executive director of the company that manages the bus system, said he was just as surprised.

Garner said he learned the strike started when he got a call from the head of the city's transit service for disabled riders. Nine kidney dialysis patients missed appointments, according to the company that manages the city's bus service.

Managers with the bus system are scrambling to take disabled patients to other appointments.

Drivers have been picketing bus stations since this morning.

Drivers have been working without a contract since July 1. The 93 members of the local Teamsters union are in a dispute over proposed changes by management in insurance coverage for retirees and the transfer of three dispatchers from union to non-union positions.

The management company, Professional Transit Management of Racine, also wants to run the payroll for the bus service with non-union employees who do payroll for other city services.

Bus system managers expect a $500,000 budget deficit this year because of the rising cost of diesel fuel, Garner said. The changes would save Racine about $310,000 per year, he said.

Officials with the two sides haven't spoken since Tuesday, Garner said.

"I'm hoping that the union realizes we don't have the revenue to get them the offer they think they want," he said. "We all need to tighten our belts and get through these tough times."

Garner said the bus system has no plans to hire replacement drivers.

Local union President Wes Gable was on the picket line and did not immediately return a message left this morning. Racine Mayor Gary Becker has been in meetings this morning and has not returned a call.

Racine's bus system provides an average of 3,400 trips per day.

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