Strike Strands 450,000 Californians

Monday, September 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly a half-million bus and rail riders scrambled to find transportation Monday on the first work day after transit drivers in Los Angeles County walked off the job.

The strike that began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday idled 2,000 buses as well as Metro Rail light rail lines and the subway serving a 1,400-square-mile area.

No new contract talks were scheduled between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the unions representing its drivers, clerks and mechanics.

In a public plea to the United Transportation Union, which represents 4,300 bus and rail operators, MTA officials urged them to resume bargaining on Monday.

Union officials rejected the offer, however, saying they wanted an invitation from state negotiators.

Motorists braced for increased freeway congestion, as mass transit passengers sought alternate forms of transportation.

Jacqueline Campos, 19, a sophomore at California State University at Northridge, said she would have to hitch a ride with her aunt to get to class. But for both of them to be at their 8 a.m. appointments on time, they would have to leave at 5 a.m., she said.

Representatives of the Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group for public transportation users, sided with the striking unions even though its members are among those most hurt by the strike.

Ted Robertson, an organizer with the group, wants the MTA to increase bus service overall. Robertson, however, said he opposes cost-saving measures made at the expense of drivers, who are among the highest paid in the nation.

Meantime, raising fares to meet increased demand would be ``out of the question,'' he added.

MTA officials say they face a $430 million operating deficit over the next 10 years if the agency doesn't cut costs or increase fares.

Robertson, like many members in the Bus Riders Union, wants the MTA to cut back on its rail projects and use that money to meet the drivers' demands and increase the number of bus routes.

About 450,000 people use the MTA in Los Angeles County. Sixty-eight percent have household incomes under $15,000 per year, and nearly three-quarters of bus riders are black or Hispanic, according to the MTA.

County Board Supervisor and MTA board member Yvonne Brathwaite Burke called on the unions Sunday to return to the table and ``stop holding our city's poor and middle-class residents hostage.''

Contracts for the United Transportation Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transportation Communications International Union expired June 30.

Work rules are the major issue in the contract dispute, and the two sides also disagree on wage and benefits increases. The MTA offered 2.7 percent raises per year for three years; the unions wanted 4 percent per year.


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