* Absolute nonsense and even false statements by a columnist may be insufficient reasons not to publish it, but I must protest the error-filled, foolish column about workers by Eric Mann (Column Left, Aug. 4).
Mann falsely damned workers at the Metropolitan Transit Authority for a lack of unity during the brief strike by mechanics. The truth is, almost no members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which was on strike, crossed the picket lines. They had the almost complete support of drivers, clerks and others who were not even on strike themselves. That was true labor solidarity.
He said the MTA workers' strike should have been in support of something he created and calls the "Bus Riders Union," which he says wanted workers to strike in opposition to MTA plans to raise fares instead of reducing them. Striking for such an unrealistic goal would have continued to hurt millions of low-income transit riders, and, of course, the workers themselves. Fares should be lowered, of course, but few workers expect what Mann calls the "class struggle" and "naked class interest" should be used to achieve his goals.
Mann said "the unions could have taken a stand against fare increases." They did just that, repeatedly.
The unions won, not lost, the strike because, among other things, they stopped anti-union board members from increasing the use of low-wage workers to replace unionized MTA employees. And they stopped--I hope permanently--the determined effort to break the unions at MTA.
WILLIAM R. ROBERTSON
Retired Executive Secretary of the Los
Angeles County Federation of Labor
* Mann condemns the MTA contract settlement as a sellout to "privateers" like Foothill Transit. I'd like to set the record straight.
Foothill Transit is a public/private partnership made up of 20 cities in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles County. Foothill Transit began operating in 1988 when it assumed the operation of 14 struggling bus lines from the RTD--bus lines that were in danger of being eliminated. Those lines have not only been continued under Foothill's leadership, many have expanded due to a sharp increase in ridership. Foothill now operates 21 lines. Last year, Foothill was chosen as the best bus system of its size in North America. Our passenger satisfaction rating is extremely high. This could not have been accomplished without a corporate business strategy and the hard work of drivers, mechanics and management.
Does Foothill Transit pay its drivers less money than the MTA? Yes. But so does every other bus system in Los Angeles County and, for that matter, in California.
Foothill Transit is not a "union buster" as Mann would like you to believe. In fact, Foothill's 400 drivers and mechanics are all members of the Teamsters Union. And, as Foothill continues to expand, more union jobs will be created. Foothill has proposed to take over additional lines in the San Gabriel Valley. However, we have also suggested that the MTA drivers on those routes be transferred to other areas that are currently underserved by the MTA.
As to the big picture, it is no longer business as usual. Southern California mass transit providers must now cope with a double-edged sword: an increasing population with decreasing revenues. All entities, both public and private, must operate in a more cost-efficient manner if they hope to survive in the future. Can this be achieved while, at the same time, employment is preserved or expanded? Foothill Transit has proven the answer is a resounding yes.
TOM SYKES, President
Foothill Transit Board
Council Member, City of Walnut
* As you point out (Aug. 4), bus riders--many of whom simply wanted to get to their own jobs--paid a significant price during the strike at the MTA. A price was also paid by the strikers in terms of missed wages and MTA management in terms of lost public support. There is an alternative to work stoppages when labor-management impasses occur. It is called binding arbitration and is used in many public jurisdictions, including the U.S. Postal Service.
Arbitration comes in many forms: conventional, final offer, tripartite, etc. In all of them a neutral panel or individual is charged with imposing settlement terms after hearing evidence from the parties to the dispute. Surely one of these variants can be found acceptable and adopted by both sides in time for the next negotiations. But arbitration won't happen unless state and local political leaders, working with MTA unions and management, push for it.
DANIEL J.B. MITCHELL
Professor, Anderson Graduate School
of Management, UCLA
* Your article on the MTA bus advertising program (Aug. 8) was a bit naive and misleading. I had the misfortune recently of riding on one of these dark, traveling "coffins." I could not see out the windows to read street signs and felt very claustrophobic. I had to walk up to the front to find out where I was and to see anything. As usual, the MTA is trying to make a few cents more by torturing the poor and car-less, who have to use their crummy buses.