Politicians Join 2,000 Strikers at Rally, Call on Riordan to Act


With political overtones likely to spill into next year’s mayoral election, about 2,000 striking bus drivers rallied Friday outside Los Angeles City Hall, where they were addressed by a new generation of local political leaders, some of whom grew up riding city buses.

The rally’s main target was Mayor Richard Riordan, who controls four seats on the 13-member Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and helped forge the hard-line stance taken by the transit agency in its contract talks.

While speaker after speaker demanded that Riordan get personally involved in the talks and help bring an end to the 15-day-old strike, the stage was occupied by seven City Council members, eight state legislators and two mayoral candidates.


Riordan, who was at his Brentwood home during the morning rally, struck back later in the day, vetoing a City Council resolution asking Gov. Gray Davis to sign into law a measure that would protect union members’ pensions, benefits and wages in the event of a much-discussed breakup of the nation’s second-largest bus system. Proponents of such a dissolution envision at least one more new transit zone in the San Fernando Valley and the expansion of existing zones in the San Gabriel Valley.

“If SB 1101 becomes law, there will be no Valley transit zone, no cost savings and no expansion of citywide bus service,” Riordan said in a statement released by his office.

Despite Friday’s fireworks, talks on a new contract, which have been stalled since Tuesday, will resume today.

At the rally, many elected leaders demonstrated their support for the drivers by linking arms and singing the civil rights spiritual “We Shall Overcome” with the crowd of drivers, most of whom are black and Latino.

Two mayoral candidates--Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) and City Atty. James Hahn--addressed the rally, pledging support for the strikers.

Villaraigosa recalled his own family’s reliance on public transit. “I grew up in East L.A. I had to ride a bus every day to school,” the former Assembly speaker said. “My mother had to ride a bus every day to work. I know who you are. You are my next-door neighbor, you’re my cousin, you’re my auntie, you’re my friend. You are Los Angeles.”

Villaraigosa, a onetime union activist, said, “This fight today is about what kind of city we want to live in--a city of just rich and poor, or a city where we reward work and we fight for middle-class jobs.”

Hahn invoked the name of his celebrated father, former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.

“I’m here because I know that my dad, Kenny Hahn, would have wanted me here. Your cause is just,” Hahn said. “[The MTA board] shouldn’t be asking you to give back what you have already won.”

Hahn ended his talk by leading a chant, “Mayor Riordan, end this strike, end this strike, end this strike.”

City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas recalled another favorite son of Los Angeles politics, the late Mayor Tom Bradley.

Fresh from a memorial ceremony for the five-term mayor, Ridley-Thomas described Bradley as someone “who believed in the rights of workers. . . . I wish his spirit could get in this building and wrap itself around this mayor.”

The rally, said to be the largest in the history of the powerful United Transportation Union, which represents 4,400 striking bus and rail operators, spoke to a different Los Angeles than the one addressed by the MTA’s professionally polished radio ads portraying drivers as overpaid and selfish.

Police estimated the crowd at 2,000. Others put the total higher.

Speakers such as Assemblywoman Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Assembly Labor Committee, talked, like Villaraigosa, about the political sensibilities of the new generation of elected leaders emerging from the city’s urban neighborhoods.

“No longer are we electing people who forget where they come from,” Romero said, pointing to lawmakers standing behind her on the stage. “These are not kings and queens, these are not the sons and daughters of kings and queens.

“These are the sons and daughters of working people,” she said, frequently interrupted by cheers, police whistles and cowbells. “These are the sons and daughters of bus drivers, of teachers, of garment workers, immigrants, railroad workers. This is a new day. . . . We will be here to march with you to tell the board: ‘Shame on you.’ ”

A major theme was that the $23 million in overtime and work rule changes sought by the MTA would knock many of the drivers out of the middle class.

The MTA annually schedules $10 million in overtime into the wage rates of bus and rail operators, and now wants to reduce a significant amount of that amount as part of a cost-cutting package to meet an expected $438-million operating deficit over the next 10 years. Part of the plan calls for some full-time drivers, who earn a maximum of $20.72 an hour, to be replaced through attrition by drivers paid as little as $8 or $10 an hour.

Before the rally, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who later gave an impassioned speech, said MTA contract demands would force some drivers “to give up their way of life.”

“Overtime was built into the way that they work,” Waters said. “From the day they started these jobs their whole economic family structure has depended on the dollars they learned to earn. They can’t just take it away from them.”

As a sign of growing support for the drivers, at least from Democratic officeholders, the rally drew far more elected officials than one held last week outside MTA headquarters.

“I have never seen this much support at any time,” said drivers union chief James Williams.

Williams announced at the rally that he would return to bargaining talks today, but will tell the MTA that he will not accept the $23 million in overtime and payroll cuts sought by the MTA board.

The MTA advised holders of September monthly passes to keep them. Once the strike is over, the passes will be good for credit toward the purchase of a future pass. The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to allow low-income senior citizens and disabled people to use the city’s dial-a-ride shuttle service for free during the strike.


Transportation Options

The public should not count on the MTA to operate any of its own bus or rail service today, according to MTA officials. None of the Red Line subway trains will be operating from the San Fernando Valley and Mid-City to Union Station. No service is planned on the Blue Line between Long Beach and Los Angeles or the Green Line between Norwalk and El Segundo. Here are some options:

* MTA BUSES: The MTA operated 74 buses along 13 lines Friday under contract with private bus companies. The lines in operation were: 96, 125, 128, 130, 167, 205, 225, 226, 232, 254, 256, 266 and 270. Lines 218, 603 and 605 have been operating only on weekends. The MTA said its ability to maintain a limited schedule will depend on strike developments.

In addition to the regular customer service numbers, (800) COMMUTE and (800) 286 RIDE, the MTA has added another, (213) 626-4455. Customers can also check the Web site at

A consumer group set up an all- purpose information Web site to provide information on different bus lines. The Web site is

* NON-MTA BUS LINES: Foothill, Long Beach, Torrance and Norwalk Transit, Metrolink, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and the city of Los Angeles (DASH, Community Connections, Commuter Express and Smart Shuttles) are honoring MTA bus passes.

The Los Angeles County Municipal Operators Coalition’s 16 bus agencies are providing additional service: Foothill Transit added five morning trips to its service to downtown Los Angeles originating from the Pomona Fairplex and four evening trips originating from 9th and Figueroa streets in downtown. With pickets surrounding the entrance to the El Monte bus station, riders can catch a Foothill Transit bus to downtown Los Angeles two blocks east of Santa Anita on the north side of Ramona Boulevard. Call (800) RIDE INFO, or visit Foothill’s Web site at Torrance Transit added additional service to and from downtown Los Angeles; Gardena Municipal Bus Line is operating additional services on its Lines 1 and 2 and will accept MTA tokens; Montebello Bus Line is providing additional service to East Los Angeles on Line 10 and added trips on Lines 40 and 50 to downtown Los Angeles.

* METROLINK: Metrolink, the commuter rail service that runs trains to downtown Los Angeles from Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties, is honoring MTA monthly, semimonthly and weekly passes, as well as passes for seniors, disabled riders and students.

Metrolink commuters can call (800) COMMUTE for information on ride-sharing options. Commuters can obtain updates by calling (800) 371-LINK, or visit Metrolink’s Web site at


Times staff writers Tina Daunt and Richard Winton contributed to this story.