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Rail News: Passenger Rail

No end in sight for LA transit strike

With a noon Oct. 12 deadline to accept Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) "last, best and final" offer having come and gone, United Transportation Union (UTU) bus and rail operators continue their four-week-old strike.

"UTU has not rejected the contract," says Goldy Norton, UTU spokesman. "UTU hasn’t responded yet."

As a result, MTA officials presented proposed-contract details to the 4,300 MTA employees UTU represents "in hopes they’ll see this is a good offer and indicate to the leadership they ought to accept it," says Edward Scannell, MTA spokesman.

"It is unfortunate that the leadership of the UTU has denied our employees the opportunity to accept this fair and attractive offer," said MTA Chief Executive Officer Julian Burke in a prepared statement, adding that the decision should be in the hands of the employees.

"The MTA cannot just sit by and let the union leadership hold Los Angeles County hostage," he said.

The proposed three-year contract would guarantee a 3 percent wage increase per year, compounded annually. And UTU-represented MTA employees would maintain their level of health coverage, which doesn’t have copays or deductibles.

Some areas of concern that have been significant stumbling blocks during negotiations also are addressed. Some surrounding communities have expressed an interest in creating transit zones by transferring bus system operations management from MTA to the community. UTU officials maintained that their bus and rail operators would have to be guaranteed the same pay and benefits at the community-operated company as they had at MTA. Gov. Gray Davis signed such a proposal into law, and MTA tried to have that provision removed from the contract. UTU wanted it retained.

The current proposal specifies that "Articles 7 and 51 have not been changed except to add a new provision, which provides that the MTA may transfer service to a zone and that the protections provided by SB1101 (new state law) will constitute ‘adequate provision’ and ‘adequate protection’ to employees."

Another area of high contention is hours of operation and hours of overtime. Under the old contract, which expired June 30, drivers were paid for eight-hour days. About 13 percent of MTA drivers regularly worked 10 hours — two at overtime. MTA hoped to pay drivers regular wages for 10 hours, but have them available for 13 hours over a split shift, four days a week. UTU rejected this proposal emphatically, stating that drivers depend on overtime pay.

In the proposed contract, the number of runs with straight pay for 10 hours and overtime thereafter, with employees working four days a week, would be increased from 45 runs to 100. And MTA would "implement a pilot program to schedule 50 runs with four-day, 10 hours pay within 12 hours a day, subject to overtime pay after 12 hours, beginning in December 2001."

But existing full-time operators working under an "8 within 10" rule and "8 within 11" rule would continue under those provisions and with that overtime. A "7 within 9" rule also remains in the contract, but is "relaxed" to permit the creation of enough work for part-time and Business Development Operating Facility (BDOF) workers.

A BDOF route is one that is very under-utilized, but operates as a public service to areas of considerable need, says Scannell.

"Since these lines get so little [business] and cost so much to operate, MTA wants the ability to have a separate wage tier for these drivers," he says.

Currently, BDOF workers earn $8 per hour during six weeks of training; afterward, their pay increases to $10 per hour. The top rates for part-time employees are $11.36 per hour for the first six months, increasing to $12.23 and $13.10 at 12-month intervals, topping out at $13.98 per hour. Full-time employees hired after July 1, 1997, can earn a maximum of $17.47; full-time employees hired before July 1, 1997, can earn up to $20.72 per hour.

MTA also proposes hiring an additional 325 new part-time operators over the three-year contract (75 in fiscal-year 2001, 100 in 2002 and 150 in 2003). Part timers would be permitted to work up to 6 hours, 59 minutes, and up to 34 hours, 55 minutes per week; however, they would have no pay guarantees, minimum hours, or penalty provisions. And new part-time employees would be subject to a lower wage tier, although existing part-time and DBOF operators would be "grandfathered" into the existing pay scales.

BDOF operators would be guaranteed promotion to part-time status, with current BDOF operators promoted as soon as possible, but no later than Jan. 2, 2001.

The contract proposal also stipulates that although MTA plans to expand its ranks of part-time operators, "the increase will be paced to match attrition and will result in no layoffs or demotions."

In response to the contract proposal, James Williams, general chairman of UTU-represented MTA operators, invited members to the Los Angeles Convention Center for an Oct. 13 evening rally, says Scannell. (UTU’s Norton says the gathering is a membership meeting — not a rally.) And Miguel Contreras, head of Los Angeles County’s Federation of Labor announced that the Rev. Jesse Jackson planned to attend.

MTA has not issued any deadline by which its employees must respond to the proposed contract; nor has the agency announced any contingency plans should employees reject the offer.

UTU officials continue proposal evaluations.

"There are high levels of discussion going on," says UTU’s Norton. "Until we find out what’s happening, we can’t say anything."

Kathi Kube

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More News from 10/13/2000