Los Angeles Transit Workers Strike

Saturday, September 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bus and rail drivers hit the picket lines Saturday, plunging the nation's second-largest city into a strike that could affect hundreds of thousands of people who rely on public transportation.

The walkout came a minute past midnight, about two hours after bargaining between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the United Transportation Union hit a snag.

The strike's full impact likely won't be felt until Monday, when the bulk of MTA's users return to work from the weekend. Some 450,000 people in a 1,400-square-mile area of Los Angeles County are expected to be affected.

``I'm a little angry about it actually,'' said Daniel Cretens, who uses a wheelchair and found himself stranded downtown once the strike began.

MTA security spotted him and sent one of the buses still in operation to pick him up and drop him off near his home.

At the MTA's downtown bus terminal, dozens of drivers — some still in uniform — quickly formed a picket line early Saturday morning. The raucous group cheered and shouted as drivers returned empty buses to the terminal.

``Get that bus off the streets,'' picketers chanted as drivers pulled their buses into the terminals.

The strike deadline was originally set for 12:01 a.m. Friday but the union representing 4,300 bus and rail drivers agreed to a 24-hour delay, and talks continued.

About two hours before the union's 12:01 a.m. Saturday deadline, both sides said a strike appeared inevitable.

``They will finish their assignments, turn in their equipment, leave their division and report for strike duty,'' union spokesman Goldy Norton told The Associated Press shortly before midnight.

No further talks were immediately scheduled, and Norton said he expected the union would wait to hear from a mediator before going back to the bargaining table. He declined to speculate on how long the strike might last.

``We made concession after concession after concession ... they just walked out, stranding hundreds of thousands of people. This is outrageous,'' MTA spokesman Mark Littman said after talks stalled late Friday night.

Only about 7 percent of commuters in Los Angeles County use public transit, but those who do often have few alternatives. 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.

``I live seven miles from the hotel and I have no car, not even a bike,'' said Rosalio Mendiosa, 62, a bus rider who works as a waiter at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Talks began in June when the MTA said it needed to cut costs.

Labor representatives said the MTA has failed to offer an improved schedule, proposing instead to increase the number of lower-paid and part-time drivers. Currently, drivers earn an average $50,000 annually, but can make an additional $20,000 in overtime.