L.A. Transit Strike Talks Break Off

Eleven days after the walkout began, talks between striking Los Angeles transit workers and transit managers have broken off.

The chief negotiator for the union representing the transit workers said the talks ended today when the Metropolitan Transportation Agency rejected a compromise offered by state mediators. James Williams said he thought the state’s compromise was reasonable and could have provided a foundation for fruitful negotiations.

“I am saddened by the latest turn of events,” Williams said after talks ended. “I thought we hade criteria set that could be the focus of further negotiations.”

MTA officials, however, disputed the union’s statement that they had rejected the offer.

“The union said they were not negotiating, and we can’t negotiate with ourselves,” MTA chief executive officer Julian Burke said. “This shouldn’t have happened. It’s an impossible situation.”.

Commuters Persevere The breakdown in negotiations gives no comfort to approximately 450,000 Los Angeles County residents who have scrambled to find alternate ways to get to work since 4,400 transit bus drivers walked off the job Sept. 16. MTA authorities and the unions representing its drivers, clerks and mechanics are at odds over a city proposal to reduce overtime paid to bus and rail operators, forcing them to work longer shifts for regular pay. The plan would also require the workers to split their shifts by driving during rush hours and going off the clock during off-peak hours.

MTA officials say they must cut costs, increase fares or face a $438 million operating deficit over the next 10 years. They want to hire more part-time operators and drivers at entry-level wages and cut overtime costs by 15 percent.

Bus drivers and train operators say they are fighting to preserve middle-class jobs and want more money for pensions and a health care trusts administered by the union. Los Angeles transit workers make an average $50,000 a year.

MTA officials have accused union leaders of holding Southern California’s poor and middle class hostage with the walkout. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, most of its riders are poor minorities who cannot afford cars. MTA statistics say 68 percent of bus rider household incomes are under $15,000 a year. The United Transportation Union says the MTA practically threw its drivers on the street by refusing to bargain in good faith.

Union and MTA officials have not indicated when talks will resume. Until then, commuters will have to continue to rely on bicycles, scooters and other alternative methods to get to work.ABCNEWS Affiliate KABC in Los Angeles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.