Leaders of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority took their case directly to striking bus and rail operators Thursday after union leaders rejected a proposed contract that included a sweetened three-year, 10% pay hike for full-time drivers.
"It is obvious to us that the union leadership has not fully comprehended what a great offer this is," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, head of the 13-member board, describing disappointment over the union's rejection of the MTA's "last, best and final offer."
"Whatever the reason," she added, "we firmly believe that employees will appreciate how this offer will make their lives better." Burke said the proposed contract was better than the one the drivers received three years ago.
James A. Williams, president of the United Transportation Union, and Miguel Contreras, head of county Federation of Labor, denounced the contract and the MTA's decision take its case to union members as an attempt at "union busting."
"I am mad. I am angry. I am upset and want to send a message loud and clear to the MTA," Williams said at a news conference with Contreras at labor federation offices. "This company set out to bust me and my union a long time ago, and it's not going to happen."
Contreras compared the MTA's efforts to undermine the union with those used by President Ronald Reagan to break the air traffic controllers union.
"We have been looking for the middle ground; they are intent on busting this union," Contreras said.
Despite the proposed pay increase, union leaders said the proposed contract departed little from the contract first laid out to the drivers' United Transportation Union in April. The proposed contract calls for hiring as many as 475 new part-time operators, would open the door to four-day work weeks of 10-hour days on split shifts, with overtime only after the 12th hour and would increase the hours part-time operators can work.
Union leaders said they would present the proposal to a full meeting of the United Transportation Union tonight at 6 at the Los Angeles Convention Center with a formal recommendation that members vote no on the proposed deal.
Burke and other MTA leaders released full details of the proposed contract after a nearly five-hour meeting with leaders of the 4,400-member bus and rail operators union in Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's City Hall office.
When the lengthy meeting failed to break an impasse that has all but shut down the nation's second-largest bus system for 28 days, the MTA officials decided to leapfrog union leaders. Despite a history that has produced seven contentious strikes over the last 28 years, this is the first time MTA officials could remember when they took a proposed contract directly to rank-and-file union members.
Details of the proposed contract are posted on the MTA's Web site, www.mta.net.
Although most Los Angeles residents remain untouched in many ways by the strike--public transit accounts for only about 5% of the region's daily trips--the strike continues to take a heavy toll on low-income, minority neighborhoods in the urban core, where many residents depend on public transit. One economist estimates that the strike has cost the local economy more than $50 million in lost wages and business. It has left most of the MTA's 450,000 poor and minority weekday bus and rail passengers struggling to find different ways of getting around and caused what some local health care workers say is an alarming drop in medical care for patients who are unable to make appointments.
As Burke and other MTA officials were stepping up their fight with United Transportation Union leaders, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony wrote a letter Thursday to MTA Chairwoman Burke and Williams, president of the drivers union, urging them to agree to accept a federal mediator as a way to break the stalemate.
The cardinal, who intervened Wednesday in the county service workers strike and got county workers to agree to go back to work, specifically recommended Richard Barnes, director of the Federal Mediation Service in Washington. Earlier this year, Barnes was instrumental in bringing an end to a 38-day strike against Boeing by engineers and technical workers.
Earlier in the bus and rail operators strike, the MTA proposed bringing in a federal mediator, but the idea was rejected by Williams. Two state mediators have been participating in the talks for weeks.
In the letter, Mahony cited "the enormous negative impact upon so many people in the county of Los Angeles, especially our poor families and small-business owners."
On another front, it was announced that the Rev. Jesse Jackson will join striking drivers, union leaders and clergy members this morning in supporting a motion before the Los Angeles City Council that calls on Riordan to do everything within his power to settle the MTA strike.