L O S A N G E L E S, Sept. 16, 2000 -- Bus and rail drivers with the MetropolitanTransportation Authority began walking off their jobs a minuteafter midnight this morning, plunging the nation’s second-largest cityinto a transit strike expected to affect hundreds of thousands ofpeople.
At the MTA’s downtown bus terminal about 12 people, a few stillin uniform, quickly threw up a picket line.
The raucous group cheered and shouted as drivers began returningempty buses to the terminal.
Driver waved at the pickets as they chanted, “Get that bus offthe streets.”
Union officials said drivers had been instructed to finish theirshifts and then return the buses to their terminals and report totheir strike captains.
“They will finish their assignments, turn in their equipment,leave their division and report for strike duty,” UnitedTransportation Union spokesman Goldy Norton told The AssociatedPress shortly before midnight.
The strike came about two hours after the union and the MTAbroke off about 10 hours of contract negotiations, with both sidessaying a strike was now all but inevitable.
‘A Management Strike’ “I regret having to put the riding public in Los Angeles Countythrough this ... But this is a management strike” James Williams,president of the United Transportation Union, told reporters alittle more than an hour before the union’s 12:01 a.m. strikedeadline.
“We have actually been shoved out in the street,” he added.“So we will have our strike and we’ll come back to the bargainingtable 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 toblame.
“What just happened with the drivers union is a slap in theface to the public. We’ve been talking to the drivers union formonths trying to get our operating costs down so we can put morebuses and trains on the road,” he said.
‘This Is Outrageous’ “We made concession after concession after concession—moremoney for their wages, more money for their benefits, we offered totake work rule changes off the table and they gave us nothing,”Littman continued. “They gave us a bunch of phony numbers and thenthey 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,” hesaid. “Work rules, the benefits package, that was all unresolved.”
No further talks were immediately scheduled, and Norton said heexpected the union would wait to hear from a mediator before goingback to the bargaining table. He declined to speculate on how longthe strike might last.
A strike by 6,750 bus and rail drivers, mechanics and clerkswould affect about 450,000 people who rely on about 200 bus routesand three Metro Rail train and subway lines in a 1,400-square-milearea of Los Angeles County.
Its full impact likely won’t be felt until Monday, however, whenthe bulk of the transit system’s users return to work from theweekend.
Only about 7 percent of the county’s commuters use publictransit, but those who do often have no alternative. Sixty-eightpercent have household incomes under $15,000 per year, and nearlythree-quarters of bus riders are black or Hispanic, according tothe MTA.