Gov. George Deukmejian, warning of a "major disruption" if 5,000 Southern California Rapid Transit District bus drivers should walk off their jobs, moved Tuesday to obtain a court order that would delay a threatened bus strike for at least two months.
In a letter to Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, Deukmejian asked the state's top law enforcement official to seek a "cooling-off" period that would prevent RTD bus drivers from staging their sixth walkout in 13 years.
Late Tuesday, the attorney general's office in Sacramento said it expects to file a petition today in Los Angeles Superior Court.
"That injunction should enjoin a strike by the union for a period of 60 days," said Eugene Hill, senior assistant attorney general, after talking with the governor's office and leaders of the AFL-CIO United Transportation Union, which represents RTD drivers.
Union officials said they were still discussing how to react to the governor's action, but district officials said they were ready to return to the bargaining table. Both sides, however, expressed varying degrees of optimism that a settlement can be reached.
"I am honestly and truthfully optimistic that we can iron out our differences if we negotiate in good faith . . . ," RTD President Nikolas Patsaouras said.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," union spokesman Goldy Norton said. "Until there is some kind of deadline, when there's no place to hide, you can't get down to meaningful negotiations."
The union, whose members had voted overwhelmingly two weeks ago to authorize a strike, is seeking a 4% pay increase. According to the district, the average driver earns $11.90 an hour, while top drivers make $12.72 an hour.
RTD management has countered with a 3 1/2% pay hike linked to a reduction in absenteeism, accidents, customer complaints and rule violations. Also in dispute are health and pension benefits, the hiring of more part-time drivers and improved working conditions.
Deukmejian's request to Van de Kamp came after he reviewed the report of a special five-member Board of Investigation, which he appointed last week to look into the labor dispute. The governor said the panel's findings had convinced him "that not only is there a threatened work stoppage, but that a work stoppage is imminent and will occur if permitted."
"Such a work stoppage against the SCRTD would undoubtedly result in a major disruption of public transportation services and endanger the public's health, safety and welfare," Deukmejian said.
Although the union contract expired Jan. 31, it was extended to midnight Feb. 12. Then, with negotiations stalemated, both sides asked the governor to step in.
Appointees to the special panel were Roy Brophy of Sacramento, a member of the California State University Board of Trustees; attorney Jerome Prewoznik of Santa Monica; William Orozco, president of a Los Angeles travel agency; retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Arthur Marshall, and Julius Draznin, a self-employed public-private arbitrator, who serves on the Los Angeles City Employee Relations Board.