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MTA, Mechanics Work on Easier Issues

October 23, 2003|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials and striking mechanics disagreed Wednesday on whether progress was being made on negotiations over a nine-day strike that has shut down most Los Angeles County bus and commuter rail service.

For the second day in a row, MTA negotiators and union leaders holed up in separate rooms of the County Hall of Administration, bargaining through a mediator who shuffled between the rooms.

But Wednesday's negotiations failed to focus on the issue that caused the strike: the mechanics' health benefits. The last substantive offer on that issue came from the MTA early Monday morning.

Instead, both sides said, Wednesday's talks were centering on parts of the labor contract that should be relatively easy to resolve, such as work rules.

To the MTA, this was cause for optimism, if only because it represented movement, however small.

"Things are constantly progressing," said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the MTA board chairman.

"We have reached quite a number of tentative agreements on minor issues, the less contentious issues.... More progress has been made with the mechanics union than in the last 17 months of discussions."

The union was less optimistic. Neil Silver, president of the roughly 2,200-member Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277, said the two sides were "taking baby steps" and still far apart on health care.

Silver said his team was reviewing an offer made by the MTA in the afternoon on "noneconomic issues," and making no headway on health care.

They are "saying we will be finishing this thing up in 12 to 24 hours," Silver said. "There's no way. There's not enough money" in the MTA's health-benefits offer.

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