LA workers suspend strike at cardinal’s request

The Associated Press
Friday October 13, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Thousands of striking Los Angeles County employees returned to work Thursday after union leaders heeded a plea from Cardinal Roger Mahony to end the interruption of services to “the poorest and most vulnerable” people. 

The surprise decision by union officials representing 47,000 of the county’s workers put the day-old walkout on hold late Wednesday night and put employees back on the job hours later – some grumbling about the cardinal and their union’s leadership. 

“I think it’s political,” said Fausto Santos, 28, heading back to work at the county assessor’s office. “The cardinal has a lot of pull.” 

“I lost several hundred in pay,” said Paul Bernal, 44, an auditor-controller’s employee. “All of a sudden I have to come back to square one. It’s not too satisfying.” 

The truce in the county labor dispute came as a separate transit strike continued for a 27th day, with representatives of bus drivers and rail operators rejecting a “final” offer by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  

It included a 9.3 percent pay increase over three years and the MTA picking up 1 percent of employee pension contributions. 

MTA officials said they would now take the proposal directly to the drivers.  

There was no immediate comment from United Transportation Union officials on that plan. 

In a new letter Thursday to MTA and United Transportation Union officials, Mahony urged use of a federal mediator and said he was praying for a mutual compromise that would give workers “a just salary and benefits” and restore public transportation. 

Mahony had denounced the transit strike when talks broke off last month, but said he wasn’t taking sides. 

“The continuation of this strike ... is unconscionable and is wreaking havoc on the poorest of our families, employees and small business owners,” he said Sept. 26. 

That appeal drew no action by either side in the transit strike, however. 

Mahony, whose presence literally looms over the county in the form of a huge new cathedral he is building across the street from the county Hall of Administration, was more moderate in his statement to the strikers and the Board of Supervisors. 

“Over the past week, workers in Los Angeles County have made us all more aware of the important services they provide to the public and, in particular, to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community,” Mahony wrote. 

He said it was “regrettable the outstanding issues in this dispute have not been resolved.” 

County employees need to be compensated fairly and should not face intimidation for union activities, he said. 

Ironically, fumes from tar being applied at the cathedral complex filled the county headquarters Thursday morning, forcing the just-returned workers out for a time. 

Earlier this year, Mahony stepped into a citywide strike by janitors, supporting their demands for higher pay. 

Kent Wong, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Labor Research and Education, said Mahony is closely following both the MTA strike and the negotiations with county workers.  

His intervention is more cautious than it was in the janitor’s strike because the lines are not as sharply drawn. 

“With the janitors, it was much cleaner – a true David and Goliath story with poor janitors facing wealthy building owners,” Wong said.  

“I think he feels deeply about the bus drivers and the bus riders. I think he feels deeply about the recipients of county services as well.” 

Mahony, who heads an archdiocese with 4 million Catholics, would not grant interviews. 

“He’s issued statements in the past with other situations, in other union efforts, but we’re pleasantly surprised to see a statement have some kind of effect,” said Tod M. Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese. 

Union spokesman Mark Tarnawsky said “most or all” county employees were expected to return to work, but that some dissent was to be expected. 

“The decision was based on consideration of the people who depend on our services and in response to cardinal’s request, and frankly because our members can ill-afford to be off work,” Tarnawsky said.