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Los Angeles

Talks to End Bus Drivers' Strike Fail

April 06, 2002|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Negotiations broke down Friday between striking school bus drivers and the Los Angeles Unified School District's biggest transportation contractor. As a result, schedule disruptions affecting 20,000 students are expected to continue into a second week.

On Thursday, Teamsters Local 572 and the bus company, Laidlaw Education Services, said they had made progress in their federally mediated talks. But after two hours of negotiations on a union counterproposal Friday afternoon, Laidlaw representatives walked out of the meeting in Glendale.

"Talks have broken off, and we have no new scheduled date that we'll be going back to the negotiating table ... ," said Laidlaw Vice President Jim Ferraro.

Teamster officials declined to comment Friday.

The 700 drivers employed by Laidlaw walked out on Tuesday, launching the first such strike in the district in more than three decades.

L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer said that he was disappointed by the breakdown in the talks. "They need to settle this strike, and I urge both sides to reconvene as soon as possible," he said.

Romer has said, however, that the district will provide alternative bus service indefinitely by using district-employed supervisors as drivers and doubling routes served by other bus contractors during the strike. Still, schoolchildren on the Laidlaw routes--fewer than a quarter of all students bused within the district--had to wait an hour on average each way this week and missed early classes. The district canceled most athletic events and field trips.

The striking Laidlaw drivers, who earn between $8.25 and $14.25 an hour, are seeking a 15% raise over three years and improved benefits.

Laidlaw executives say the Teamsters' demands are unrealistic within the financial bounds of the bus company's contract with L.A. Unified.

The union's leaders say part of their strategy is to get the district to increase its payments to Laidlaw, an option that the financially strapped school district says is unlikely.

The Teamsters will probably enter their second week on strike without any fund to assist their drivers' families or any other labor organizations joining their protest. Local 572 leaders failed to persuade 250 of the union's own members who drive for a different district bus contractor, Atlantic Express, to join the picket line.

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