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Pain From Strike Grows

Fires are worsening the transit crisis. The MTA, union and city must take action.

October 30, 2003

The mechanics who keep Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and trains running couldn't have foreseen ravaging wildfires and major road closures when their leaders called a strike. However, the traffic generated by the fires is adding to the pain and hazards of the walkout, which shut down bus and subway service. The strike alone is estimated to have added about 6% to local traffic. That's a lot on a freeway and street system that is frequently at or over capacity.

Half a million people are walking to work and school in smoky air or struggling to find rides. The MTA is a monopoly and people don't have other practical transit choices. People who can't get to their jobs are losing them.

While Southern California burns, the two sides in the dispute are fiddling like spoiled emperors. The MTA's decision to break off talks this week is regrettable, a signal of failure on its part and an act of hostility. The union, for its part, wasn't even speaking to management's bargaining team except through a federal mediator.

There is no lack of desire to get this strike settled. Miguel Contreras, head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, says, "We want both sides locked in a room and talking." Talking isn't enough after three weeks of a strike. The next move has to get the buses running again.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 01, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 24 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
MTA strike -- An editorial Thursday said a federal mediator was assisting with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority negotiations. A state mediator was involved in the talks.

Contreras and many others with sympathies on both sides have suggested binding arbitration, a move that usually comes from management and, if fruitful, would get the buses rolling. Contreras expresses sympathy for the strikers but notes pointedly that it is the "low-paid members of our [other] unions that are having to walk to work every day."

It is obvious this dispute has to get away from personalities, from who can't stand whom at the bargaining table and which side is being most unreasonable. That is sandbox stuff. The issues at hand are serious; employee health care is driving both the MTA and grocery store labor disputes.

Goldy Norton, spokesman for the bus drivers union, says that in 44 years of representing the union, "This is by far the most gut-wrenching of our strikes, because of the atmosphere that surrounds the negotiations." Negotiators don't have to like each other, but they must have some level of trust in each others' promises. Gov. Gray Davis, Mayor James Hahn, members of the L.A. City Council and other public officials need to keep pressing for an end to this strike, to get the buses running even as talks resume.

Other large public transit systems -- Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta among them -- have accepted some form of arbitration as a permanent alternative to repeated strikes that wreak havoc on lives and public finances. Los Angeles must have reliable public transit and union and civic officials who understand their duty to provide it.

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