LA transit negotiations near strike deadline

The Associated Press
Friday September 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority negotiated with its bus and rail drivers Thursday as a midnight strike deadline loomed, raising the prospect of 450,000 people left without a means to get to work or move around the region. 

Talks with the United Transportation Union, one of three unions involved in the dispute, focused on work rule changes as the 12:01 a.m. Friday deadline neared, said MTA spokesman Barry Liden at the negotiation site in Pasadena. 

“We don’t think there’s any reason for a strike,” Liden said. 

At nightfall, the MTA was reviewing the most recent UTU proposal. 

“At this point, unless we can make substantial progress in the next several hours, I’d say the likelihood of a strike is very likely,” UTU spokesman Goldy Norton said. 

The main issue was the MTA’s call for a four-day work week for some drivers. Union officials said it would force drivers to work 10 hours a day, spread over 12 hours, without overtime. The transit agency said it was a needed cost-saving move. 

A strike by drivers, mechanics and clerks would shut down about 200 bus routes and three Metro Rail commuter train and subway lines. 

All sides agreed that a strike would it would be devastating for nearly a half-million daily riders. Nearly 68 percent have household incomes under $15,000 per year, and nearly three-quarters are black or Hispanic, according to the MTA. 

“If there was a bus strike, I don’t have money for a cab — that’s $30, $40,” said Jimmy Jackson, 36, who rides a bus and the Metro Red Line from South Central Los Angeles to his $300-a-week job as an auto detailer at a Sherman Oaks Mercedes-Benz dealership. 

During a nine-day strike in 1994, Los Angeles County employment dropped by 5,000 jobs, said Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. 

A short walkout wouldn’t have much impact, but a long strike could affect a range of businesses whose low-paid workers rely on mass transit, Kyser said. An upsurge in welfare applicants would also be possible if the working poor were unable to get to jobs. 

Some companies made contingency plans. The downtown Bonaventure Hotel, with more than 750 employees, distributed the number of a commuter hotline and planned to try to link up workers to share rides. 

Not all public transportation was at risk. At least 17 suburbs have municipal bus lines, and the Metrolink commuter train system that runs between Los Angeles and outlying Southern California cities is separate from the MTA. 

The MTA planned to use privately contracted drivers on five heavily used bus routes, but the MTA said some of those drivers affiliated with the Teamsters union might honor picket lines. MTA supervisors are unionized and can’t be used as replacements. 

The Los Angeles region is far less susceptible to direct impacts from interruption of public transit than other major cities. 

Only about 7 percent of Los Angeles County commuters use buses and trains while in New York City “more people use public transit than cars,” said Al O’Leary, a spokesman for New York City Transit. 

However, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents 800,000 workers, said it would support transit workers.