Settlement reached in transit strike

The Associated Press
Wednesday October 18, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A monthlong transit strike ended Tuesday with both sides overwhelmingly agreeing to accept a new three-year contract that would restore bus and commuter rail service to 450,000 riders dependent on public transportation. 

The pact, which provides raises totaling more than 9 percent over the next three years to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 4,300 bus drivers and subway operators, was approved unanimously by the MTA’s board of directors. It was approved by 92 percent of the more than 1,350 union members casting ballots Tuesday night. 

“We won. We fought a good fight. Make no mistake about it, we won,” the United Transportation Union’s general chairman, James Williams, told members at a raucous rally Tuesday night at which he exhorted them to accept the contract. 

Of those who cast ballots, 1,258 voted in favor and 92 against. 

Union members were given 72 hours to return to work but both sides said they expected buses to be running again Wednesday. Subways should be in operation by Thursday, MTA officials said. 

“There’s no winners here – 30 days strike is tough on everyone and we absolutely agree that everyone who is a rider and employee suffered,” said county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, chairwoman of the MTA board. 

Riders, largely the working poor, and drivers who battled the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to maintain middle-class incomes were eager to get back on the buses and trains, but the bitterness, anger and anxiety of the 32-day strike remained. 

“I’m happy but I’m furious with the MTA board,” Salvadoran immigrant Moises Canisales, 36, said in Spanish. “I didn’t lose my job but I lost working hours.” 

The MTA’s board planned to let commuters ride free for five days. 

“We think we owe them something,” Burke said. “They have been terribly inconvenienced. There are some people that probably lost their jobs.” 

On Broadway, long-suffering merchants eagerly awaited the end of the strike. Out on the sidewalks, a litany of transit routes on the bus stops - 2, 3, 4, 30, 31, 40, 42, 45, 68, 302, 304, 345, – was evidence of how much the street depends on the MTA. 

“We’ve lost a lot of customers and a lot of money,” said Marcos Cortez, who sells herbal products at Natural Sunshine. “It needs to end tomorrow.” 

Negotiators for both sides reached a tentative agreement Tuesday morning after marathon bargaining assisted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who joined the talks Friday to help break a stalemate. 

“We had just about given up after all night long, then we were awakened this morning by some angel that blessed us out of somewhere with a fresh start, a fresh idea and we shared it with the MTA leadership,” Jackson said. 

Before the vote, bus driver Roselyn Trone, 49, of Fontana went to the Mission Street MTA depot to find out about the agreement and wore her uniform to show her readiness to work. 

“It’s been very, very hard for me,” said Trone. “I’m just buying my home. They (lenders) don’t care what’s going on, they just want the mortgage. It’s taken 36 years to buy the home. I was fearful.” 

MTA drivers and rail operators walked out Sept. 16, supported by mechanics, clerks and unionized supervisors. The MTA took a firm position that operating costs far exceeded those of neighboring transit systems and blamed outdated work rules. 

The walkout sent the nearly half-million daily riders scrambling for alternatives – anybody they knew with a car; entrepreneurs illegally cruising bus stops and offering rides for cash; bicycles, if they could afforde one; or just setting out on foot. 

The MTA fielded some buses on “lifeline” routes but most of its 2,275 buses and all of its 59 miles of light rail and subway were idled. 

Other municipal bus lines bolstered service, including the Los Angeles city DASH buses to help out, but the core of public transit for Los Angeles County was sidelined. 

The latest Los Angeles transit strikes had lasted nine days in 1994 and five days in 1982. But the recent past proved to be no precedent and suddenly the current strike was the third-longest in the city’s history, behind 68- and 36-day walkouts in the 1970s. 

“I’m fed up with the strike. I need the bus to come back. I cannot do anything,” said Magdalena Iglesias, 31, who tried to use DASH buses to get to English classes at a downtown adult school. 

Iglesias said she paid people as much as $12 a trip to take her son to his school. 

“They’ve made us suffer for a month. A lot of people I know have lost their jobs,” she said in Spanish.