Bus, Rail Drivers Go on Strike in L.A.

Bus and rail drivers with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began walking off their jobs a minute after midnight this morning, plunging the nation’s second-largest city into a transit strike expected to affect hundreds of thousands of people.

At the MTA’s downtown bus terminal about 12 people, a few still in uniform, quickly threw up a picket line.

The raucous group cheered and shouted as drivers began returning empty buses to the terminal.

Driver waved at the pickets as they chanted, “Get that bus off the streets.”

Union officials said drivers had been instructed to finish their shifts and then return the buses to their terminals and report to their strike captains.

“They will finish their assignments, turn in their equipment, leave their division and report for strike duty,” United Transportation Union spokesman Goldy Norton told The Associated Press shortly before midnight.

The strike came about two hours after the union and the MTA broke off about 10 hours of contract negotiations, with both sides saying a strike was now all but inevitable.

‘A Management Strike’ “I regret having to put the riding public in Los Angeles County through this ... But this is a management strike” James Williams, president of the United Transportation Union, told reporters a little more than an hour before the union’s 12:01 a.m. strike deadline.

“We have actually been shoved out in the street,” he added. “So we will have our strike and we’ll come back to the bargaining table when this negotiating team is ready to bring with them ... the authority that is needed to sign an agreement.”

MTA spokesman Mark Littman said it was the union that was to blame.

“What just happened with the drivers union is a slap in the face to the public. We’ve been talking to the drivers union for months trying to get our operating costs down so we can put more buses and trains on the road,” he said.

‘This Is Outrageous’ “We made concession after concession after concession—more money for their wages, more money for their benefits, we offered to take work rule changes off the table and they gave us nothing,” Littman continued. “They gave us a bunch of phony numbers and then they just walked out, stranding hundreds of thousands of people. This is outrageous.”

Norton said both sides were far apart when talks broke off.

“Everything was unresolved, all of the critical issues,” he said. “Work rules, the benefits package, that was all unresolved.”

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.

A strike by 6,750 bus and rail drivers, mechanics and clerks would affect about 450,000 people who rely on about 200 bus routes and three Metro Rail train and subway lines in a 1,400-square-mile area of Los Angeles County.

Its full impact likely won’t be felt until Monday, however, when the bulk of the transit system’s users return to work from the weekend.

Only about 7 percent of the county’s commuters use public transit, but those who do often have no alternative. 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.