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Key Transit Bill May Be Returned to Senate Today

August 31, 2000

SAN FERNANDO VALLEY — A labor-backed bill that could cripple plans for a Valley transit district is on the home stretch to a possible showdown with Gov. Gray Davis, who vetoed a similar bill last year.

The bill passed the state Assembly late Tuesday and could return today to the Senate, where it originated, for a final vote.

Despite strong backing from unions, Davis vetoed an almost identical measure last year that would have required any new bus service operator to pay wages and benefits on a par with what workers now receive at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In his veto message, Davis said he did not think the state should intervene in the labor issues of local agencies.

This time, the bill is set against the backdrop of contentious labor negotiations with the MTA. Negotiators are predicting a strike after Labor Day, the first one since a 1994 walkout that lasted nine days.

A spokesman for Davis said the governor has not made a decision on the bill, but is monitoring the Los Angeles negotiations between unions and the MTA.

Barry Broad, a lobbyist for the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents more than 1,800 bus and rail mechanics, said after the governor's veto last year it was clear that Davis wanted the unions and the MTA to solve labor issues.

"If we send this bill to the governor, it's because we have not been able to reach an agreement with the MTA, try as we might," Broad said. "It has always baffled us why the opponents seem to believe they can't create a transportation zone with our people protected."

As stipulated by the MTA board, a new transit zone cannot be created unless it can demonstrate a 15% savings and improved service.

But opponents of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), see protection of labor rights as a roadblock to creating a new transit district.

"The people in the Valley wouldn't want a zone that doesn't save money," said Scott O. Schmidt, government liaison director for the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which opposes the legislation. "Why would we want a transit zone that does the same as the MTA?"

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