RTD, Union: Cutting Up a Smaller Pie


The harsh, uncompromising accusations exchanged by Southern California Rapid Transit District management and the bus drivers union point to the likelihood of yet another bus strike soon, the sixth in the last 13 years.

But a closer look shows that each side has greater sympathy for the other’s problems than official statements indicate. And that mutual understanding might help them to avert a walkout.

The public rhetoric does sound familiar to those who have followed the usually turbulent negotiations between RTD managers and the three unions that represent the district’s employees.


In an almost traditional management statement, RTD Board President Nick Patsaouras last weekend angrily denounced the union’s “irresponsible contract demands.”

Earl Clark, head of the United Transportation Union, which represents nearly 5,000 bus drivers, has also gone on the attack, saying that this time RTD management has “submitted the most devastating set of contract proposals in the history of negotiations on this property, and they have not seen fit to budge one inch from their original proposal.”

Loss of Subsidies

Yet both sides, when pressed, agree that the basic problem this year is not some alleged irresponsible greed on the part of drivers or viciousness on the part of management but rather the loss or threatened loss of government subsidies making up as much as 20% of the RTD’s operating budget. Starting July 1, the district will lose as much as $43 million in local tax subsidies and face the possible loss of an additional $48 million in federal subsidies as demanded by President Reagan.

Even fair-minded people cannot easily agree on how to resolve the dilemma facing the RTD and its employees. Something obviously has to be done to make up for the loss, and management has proposed raising bus fares and reducing operating costs.

In effect, the drivers are being asked by management to help subsidize the bus system by reducing labor costs.

Most bus riders earn less than the average $24,000 to $26,000 earned by bus drivers, but Clark of the union says that is no reason for the drivers to accept a wage freeze or cut so that bus riders can continue to pay relatively low fares.


“Why should our drivers, who are not rich by any means, be expected to help subsidize poorer bus riders any more than, say, government welfare workers should be asked to take pay cuts to help welfare recipients maintain their benefits?” Clark asked.

‘Devastating’ Cuts

The problem should be solved by the entire community, not just a few individual workers, Clark argued.

Patsaouras, the RTD president, also said the proposed cuts would be “devastating,” but he contends that those cuts, along with the reduction in local tax revenue, mean that “it is imperative that they (the bus drivers) take a realistic view of the district’s financial dilemma.” And to Patsaouras, that means realizing the necessity of lower labor costs.

Hundreds of bus riders jammed a special RTD board hearing last week urging the district to hold the line on fares. Clearly, however, some increases will be needed even if drivers are forced to agree to a pay freeze and benefit reductions.

RTD management says it will have to boost fares to 75 cents from 50 cents a ride and cut service by 5% just to make up for the loss of Proposition A tax subsidies when those funds are shifted July 1 to finance rail rapid transit construction.

If the federal cuts are approved as well, the base fare would have to rise to an estimated $1.10, and more reductions in service would be necessary.


And even higher fares would be needed if RTD workers were to stay even with the rising cost of living and maintain their medical benefits, unless significant productivity increases can be made.

Drivers now work an average of 6.3 hours a week overtime, and top drivers earn $12.72 an hour, plus fringe benefits. Part-time drivers earn $9.54 an hour and get no fringe benefits.

Management officials say they don’t think that drivers are overpaid and that they would like to let them keep up with cost-of-living increases and get some added benefits if the subsidies were to continue or even increase.

But since that isn’t at all likely, RTD officials argue, they want to try a “bonus system.” Their idea is that, if productivity can be increased by reducing accidents, absenteeism and sick leave, among other things, the district will split the cost savings with the drivers.

The union contends that possible savings under the plan would be small, at best, and not enough to assure drivers that their present contract standards would be maintained.

Years ago, the state established laws to govern labor relations in the various transit districts. The law did not prohibit strikes but was designed to help resolve disputes. The law, however, is of little, if any, value.


When negotiations broke down last week, both union and management called on Gov. George Deukmejian to invoke the law to avert a strike, which might have begun today.

In doing so, he appointed a special five-member panel that will begin hearings today in Van Nuys. Seven days after those hearings begin, the panel must submit to the governor a report on the status of the dispute.

The panel can only describe the offers and counteroffers. Not only is it prohibited from making any binding proposals for a contract settlement, but it also cannot even make any non-binding recommendations, something that it could do until the law was revised in 1982.

After the governor receives that fairly meaningless report showing that, indeed, there is no agreement between management and labor, he can then ask the attorney general to seek a court order prohibiting a strike for up to 60 days to allow time for further negotiations. NLRB Appointments

President Reagan is expected to make two National Labor Relations Board appointments soon, ending what some might call a policy of “benign neglect” toward the agency that enforces federal labor laws.

It can also be argued, however, that there was nothing benign either in the appointments Reagan has made to the board or in his neglect in filling the two board vacancies, one of which has existed since August, 1983, when the term of Howard Jenkins Jr. expired.


The three current board members--all Reagan appointees--are widely regarded as pro-management. In addition, the fact that there has not been a complete board for more than a year and a half has meant further delays in processing charges of unfair labor practices, usually brought by workers.

Of the two names most prominently mentioned as likely Reagan appointees, one is sure to draw more harsh criticism from labor and praise from management. He is Marshall Babson, a management attorney from New Haven, Conn., whose law firm represented Yale University against the unions involved in the recently concluded, bitter 10-week strike of 2,500 clerical and technical employees, mostly women.

The other person being considered is Wilfred W. Johansen of Los Angeles, a career NLRB lawyer who is now serving as director of the NLRB’s Region 21, which serves about half of Los Angeles County and Orange, San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties. He is well regarded in both management and labor circles.

Unions have directed most of their criticism of the board to Donald Dotson, its controversial chairman. They have sharply attacked his decisions as anti-labor, but his remarks about unions and his ties to the anti-union National Right to Work Committee have prompted even more attacks.

For instance, an affiliate of the National Right to Work Committee recently set up several Donald R. Dotson Scholarships at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Dotson’s acknowledgment of the tribute at a banquet given by the university and the anti-union committee seemed to indicate an anti-union bias, but Dotson’s chief counsel, Charles M. Williamson, denied such an implication.

“The chairman (Dotson) was highly honored. The National Right to Work Committee is a legitimate group, and the honor does not put any taint on him,” Williamson said.


A Campbell University spokesman said Dotson was honored because “we put a strong emphasis here on ‘right to work’ laws, and many of us approve of the changes Mr. Dotson has made as chairman of the NLRB.”

Williamson also said Dotson’s views on unions have been misconstrued by those who took out of context a statement he made in a letter to the American Bar Assn. Journal.

But a reading of the key part of the letter isn’t likely to give much comfort to those who fear that Dotson does have a bias against unions:

“In both the public and private sectors, the strike has come to mean not merely a concerted withholding of labor, but a concerted effort employing violence, intimidation and political intervention to prevent people who want to work from working.

“In other words, collective bargaining frequently means labor monopoly, the destruction of individual freedom and the destruction of the marketplace as the mechanism for determining the value of labor. An employer’s right to replace strikers has been rendered meaningless in most major industries.”