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Accord Reached to End Bus Strike : Transit: Proposed agreement between mechanics and MTA officials faces union vote today. If approved, full service may not resume until end of the week.

August 02, 1994|RICHARD SIMON and NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After an all-night bargaining session, striking transit mechanics forged a tentative agreement with MTA officials early Monday that could end their eight-day walkout, but normal service for hundreds of thousands of beleaguered Los Angeles bus and train riders may not resume until the end of the week.

Although the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board unanimously approved the proposed settlement Monday evening, union leaders said the strike that has crippled the region's transit system will continue until the 1,900 mechanics cast their votes in a closed-door meeting today.

Even if the union ratifies the agreement, MTA officials say, it could take 72 hours to summon drivers, inspect buses and dispatch the agency's normal fleet of 1,900 buses to 200 routes--only 17% of which have been served during the strike.

"It's great. I'll be able to get back and forth to work at the speed I want," said Victor Woo, a Koreatown sales manager whose round-trip bus commute during the strike has taken six hours. "It's been a real big hassle."

Both sides declined to discuss most details of the preliminary settlement, which was reached at 3:55 a.m. Monday over coffee at a Burbank hotel suite. The marathon 12-hour negotiating session came on the heels of a bitter breakdown in talks Friday afternoon that seemed to derail any hope of early resolution.

"I will recommend to ratify this contract, that's all I can say," said Mike Bujosa, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Bujosa planned to present a summary of the 20-page pact to union members in a meeting at the Los Angeles Convention Center at 3 p.m. today. After hashing out details of the proposal, the union will pass out ballots and vote on the settlement. A simple majority is necessary for ratification and a tally is expected by early evening.

The sticking point in talks had centered on the agency's desire to contract out work to non-union companies. Under the proposed agreement, a committee of union members and MTA officials will approve any controversial subcontracts to private companies, said Manuel Guerra, a union shop steward. The union will agree to allow the MTA to do some subcontracting, such as body work on company cars, Guerra said.

Under the proposed settlement, dozens of mechanics laid off last month will be rehired when current positions become vacant, according to MTA officials. The agreement also will allow the agency to hire some new union members at lower wages.

The MTA board unanimously approved the agreement after a 55-minute, closed-door meeting Monday.

"It is a fair and equitable agreement--fair to the union members, fair to the MTA, fair to our riders and fair to the public and taxpayers," said Supervisor Ed Edelman, chairman of the MTA. "It is a good example of compromise. We didn't get everything we wanted, and I'm sure the unions didn't get everything they wanted."

Mayor Richard Riordan said the public will benefit because "what we're going to do is have much better and more efficient service, particularly in the transit-needy parts of Los Angeles."

Franklin White, the MTA's chief executive officer, said he hoped to restore full bus service by Friday. "We will be back to 100% by the end of the week," he said.

Several picketing drivers and mechanics, who did not know the details of the newly crafted settlement, said they had begun to feel the financial pinch of a week with no pay and were ready to end the transit strike--the region's first in 12 years and the longest in 15 years.

"I'm glad they did it--we've been ready to get back to work," said Richard Danleis, who has driven a bus for 18 years. "I've got four kids and a wife who doesn't work, so believe me, it hurts."

Fred Payne, a mechanic for 17 years, spent the last week picketing the South-Central bus yard.

"If it goes through I'll be one of the happiest guys out here," Payne said. "I want to get out of this sun."

When Van Nguyen learned of the joint MTA-union committee that will review subcontracting issues, he said he was concerned that it would lead to fewer union jobs.

"I don't think that's a good idea. . . . When you subcontract, people lose their jobs," said the 33-year-old El Monte mechanic.

Nguyen and other mechanics could return to work as early as tonight if the settlement is approved. This would allow agency officials to start up limited service on every line by Wednesday afternoon, said MTA spokeswoman Andrea Greene. But it will take several days to deploy the MTA's usual fleet because each bus will need to be inspected before it can hit the streets, she said.

Expecting the strike to end, about 30 drivers, clerks and mechanics crossed the picket line to report to work Monday. "People are getting antsy," Greene said. "They want their paycheck."

The 1,900 mechanics walked off the job eight days ago after they were unable to reach an agreement on a new three-year contract.

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