L.A .Buses Roll as Transit Strike Ends

The Los Angeles transit system got back on track this morning, as bus drivers and rail operators headed back to work after ending their monthlong strike.

Buses rolled out early this morning, hours after the 4,300-member United Transportation Union voted overwhelmingly to accept a new contract providing raises of 9.3 percent over three years. The deal ended the 32-day-old walkout and meant relief for the 450,000 commuters who rely on public transportation in the city.

“As soon as I find out that everything is settled I say, ‘I want to go back to work to serve my public,’” driver Jose Ornelas said.

Rail service is not expected to be operating until Thursday because of required maintenance checks.

The agreement between union and transit authority officials was reached early Tuesday following a marathon negotiation session. The Rev. Jesse Jackson had been working with the two sides in recent days in hopes of brokering a pact.

“We had almost given up, and then we were blessed by an angel that gave us a fresh idea,” Jackson said.

In the end, leaders from both sides expressed satisfaction with the deal.

“We got what we needed out of this contract. It gives us the kind of savings that positions us in a financially stable way so that we can serve the needs of the transit-dependent of Los Angeles,” said MTA board member Zev Yaroslavsky, who is also a member of the county board of supervisors.

Union general chairman James Williams declared victory at a rally Tuesday night, telling members, “Let’s do the job the right way. Let’s wear our uniform and let’s be proud of who we are, because we won!”

About 92 percent of the more than 1,350 union members who cast ballots Tuesday night voted in favor of the contract.

The contract also includes improvements to the drivers’ pension plan, and allows the MTA to add 55 drivers who can work four-day, 10-hour shifts and hire more than 300 new part-time drivers.

Commuters Relieved At least one commuter is happy the strike is over.

“I’m relieved. That is great. I no longer have to foot it,” said Rick Espinosa, 30, of Los Angeles.

Espinosa, who works out of his home, used the bus about four times a week for errands such as shopping and trips to the gym. He recently bought a bicycle to cope with the loss of transportation. “It was a real inconvenience, to put it mildly,” he said. 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, according to the MTA. “They’ve made us suffer for a month. A lot of people I know have lost their jobs,” said Magdalena Iglesias, 31, who uses public transportation to attend English classes at an adult school.

She said she was paying people as much as $12 per trip to take her son to school.

Officials with the Metropolitan Transit Authority planned to let commuters ride free for five days to bring riders back and ease their frustration with the system.

“We think we owe them something,” County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said. “They have been terribly inconvenienced.”

Progress in Another Strike

On another labor front, talks resumed Tuesday between Los Angeles County and a union representing 47,000 of its employees. Both sides expressed optimism that a resolution might be near.

Los Angeles County’s chief administrative officer, David Janssen, said he hopes to reach an agreement by midweek.

The union shares Janssen’s optimism, a spokesman said late Monday, but added that the talks were still at a sensitive stage.

“We are pleased but there are some important issues out there we need to resolve,” said Mark Tarnawsky, spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 660.

The SEIU called a general strike a week ago, but suspended it one day later at the request of Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, who said it was hurting the poor. The union has sought a 15.5 percent pay increase over a three-year period and announced Monday that Los Angeles County agreed to wage increases of more than 9 percent for more than half its members. County officials, the union also said, also agreed to improved retirement benefits and increased training for union members.

ABC affiliate KABC in Los Angeles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.