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SOUTHLAND STRIKES

Hahn Speaks Out on Disputes

The mayor had been criticized for not discussing the grocery, MTA work stoppages.

October 15, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn broke his silence on the week's labor unrest Tuesday, suggesting that a federal mediator be brought in to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its mechanics resolve their differences and urging both sides in the region's grocery strike to work out a compromise.

Hahn's comments came after criticism by City Council members and others that he had failed to speak out on the labor disputes.

In an interview, Hahn said he had waited until the transit strike was underway before speaking, in part because he had hoped "that perhaps an --eleventh-hour resolution would take place."

The mayor is a member of the 15-person MTA board and appoints three other members. But, he said, he has been hindered in playing a role in the strike by an MTA ethics rule that prohibits him from participating in labor negotiations because he accepted a political contribution from the mechanics' union. The contribution was $1,000.

"My role is a little bit limited because of state law in this arena, but I think we can't afford a 32-day strike like we had just a few years ago," Hahn said at a City Hall news conference at which he welcomed former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to Los Angeles.

"That [strike] really disrupts life for so many people who depend on public transportation to get to work, to get to school," Hahn said. "I'm urging the parties to really try to work this out quickly."

Hahn said he has "not yet" made direct calls to involved parties to urge a solution but would help arrange for a federal mediator if the parties thought that would help. Previous talks between the MTA and the mechanics union have been overseen by a state mediator.

"I have to be a little bit circumspect in the way I do things," he said.

Hahn's circumspection has been notable. On Monday, as grocery clerks walked picket lines at stores throughout Los Angeles and MTA mechanics prepared to interrupt bus service, City Hall was closed for Columbus Day and Hahn was neither seen nor heard from.

City Hall reopened for business Tuesday, but Hahn's aides originally said he would make no public appearances. The event with Peres was added to his schedule later in the day, and the mayor weighed in on the transit strike only when asked by a reporter.

The mayor also had not issued a public statement about the grocery strike until he was asked about it in the interview with The Times. The City Council earlier had approved a motion supporting the union.

Political scientist Jaime A. Regalado said he was surprised that Hahn had waited so long to comment publicly and had not carved out a more active role in trying to resolve the labor problems.

The statement issued by Hahn on the grocery strike "sounds like he is doing this from his desk, without actively being involved," Regalado said.

Hahn is "walking a tightrope," and may not want to speak out about the strikes for fear of setting back months of effort to improve his relations with labor leaders, Regalado said.

Others said his low profile appears to be a reflection of his low-key style.

"He has not demonstrated a real aggressive approach to dealing with most things," said Larry Berg, a retired USC political scientist. "That's his style. I think in some cases it's the correct response, but in this case he should modify it."

Councilman Bernard C. Parks also weighed in on Hahn early Tuesday, saying that "certainly people look to the mayor's office for clarity on issues."

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who like Hahn has been disqualified from voting as an MTA board member because of union contributions, spoke on the council floor Tuesday about the need to resolve the MTA labor dispute, and he supported calls for the council to hold a hearing today about what it can do to help the public.

Villaraigosa said that he is aware of his disqualification from voting but added that "it doesn't mean we can't make public statements."

Hahn also made little effort to draw attention to himself during the recall election. He appeared at some events to voice opposition to the recall, but his comments were almost always overshadowed by others.

On Tuesday, Hahn denied that he has been dormant during the recall.

"There hasn't been any holding back, but it's been hard to get attention to stuff we have been doing," Hahn said.

Since spearheading the campaign last November against secession by the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood, Hahn has devoted much of his energy to three priorities: expanding the police force, modernizing Los Angeles International Airport and making the city more secure against terrorism.

On the three issues, he has had mixed results. The City Council blocked his police expansion plan, saying that it moved too quickly and would cost too much. The LAX plan has been slowed by opposition in the City Council and among airlines. And Hahn has complained that the federal government has not done enough to help the city meet security needs that he estimates would cost $250 million.

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