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Union Threatens MTA Strike

As contract talks break down, the labor leader representing 2,000 mechanics says there may be a series of rolling work stoppages.

February 21, 2003|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

Labor negotiations between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the union representing its bus and train mechanics have reached a critical impasse, with transit officials making what they say is a final contract offer and the union talking of a strike.

Officials from both sides say the talks have broken down after six months of meetings, despite the involvement of a state mediator on the central issues of wages and medical benefits.

"I thought bringing in a mediator would pay off, but instead the whole thing has deteriorated," said Neil Silver, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents about 2,000 MTA mechanics. "What I feel like saying about the MTA right now, you can't print it in the newspaper.... I'm tired of their whole act."

The transit agency this month handed out a "last, best and final offer," a one-year proposal that would raise the mechanics' pay 2.1% immediately and an additional 0.04% every three months. The union's members currently make between $14.42 and $26.04 an hour. They have been working without a contract since January.

MTA spokesman Marc Littman called the latest offer fair, particularly given the agency's budget woes. It has projected an operating shortfall of $1.4 billion over 10 years, anticipates receiving less money from state and federal sources, and is struggling to comply with a federal mandate to increase bus service.

Littman said the agency limited its contract offer to one year because it didn't want to get locked into a long-term deal. The union is seeking a five- to six-year pact.

Silver accused the agency of using the budget crisis as an excuse to shortchange his workers. He claimed the latest MTA offer is worse than proposals made last year. In one example, he said the agency proposes increasing its contributions to the employees' health-care fund by 16%, after first proposing a 20% increase. The MTA would not comment on the matter.

Silver also blasted MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble for not getting involved in the talks directly. Snoble has left the talks to the MTA's chief negotiator.

"They always want us to work harder and harder for less money," Silver said. "We aren't going to accept that."

Silver said the union will continue trying to negotiate while also drawing up plans for rolling strikes.

"By no means do we want to strike," he said. "But if need be, we will have a series of strikes in this town the likes of which we have never seen before."

He offered no timeline on a potential work stoppage. A strike by drivers in 2000 forced the MTA to close down for 32 days, leaving the agency's roughly 1.3 million riders seeking other transportation.

MTA spokesman Littman said that he had no knowledge of a threatened mechanics strike, but that the agency was looking forward to Silver's response to its latest offer.

"Nobody wants to go through that again," said Littman, referring to the 2000 strike. "But we have an offer on the table and we hope they will accept it."

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