MTA Union May Vote

Times Staff Writer

As striking drivers for a private company that contracts with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed Sunday to go back to work, the leader of the MTA’s mechanics union softened his hard-line position and said he may allow his workers to vote on the transit agency’s latest proposal this week.

“My board is reconsidering its position,” said Neil Silver, the MTA mechanics union president and leader of a worker walk-off that has forced roughly 400,000 daily bus and train riders to look for transportation alternatives since mid-October. “We will be meeting Monday to discuss offering this to the members. It looks like we will have a vote. If the membership accepts the offer, we will return to work.”

But the union leader said he would like something from the MTA in return. Silver said that if his members decline the offer, which the MTA made directly to workers last week, he wants the transit agency to accept a union proposal to have an outside panel of experts come up with a new labor contract.


“If the membership should reject this offer, I hope [the MTA accepts] our offer for arbitration,” said Silver, who has promised to bring his members back to work immediately if the MTA agrees to arbitration. “That is the honorable thing to do.”

MTA spokesman Marc Littman said the transit agency doesn’t want an outside party deciding a contract that affects millions of dollars of taxpayer money, even if it would get the nation’s third-largest transportation system rolling again.

“We are not going to accept arbitration,” Littman said. “We welcome the fact that he is reconsidering, but arbitration is not an option.”

Last week, the MTA called off talks and took its contract offer directly to the union’s roughly 2,800 members.

MTA officials, led by board chairman and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy, urged the union to allow members to vote on the deal. The MTA, an agency with a $2.7-billion annual budget, offered a 3% wage increase over a three-year contract ending in 2006. In addition, the agency offered to increase its monthly contributions to the union’s health fund by 44%. The fund, nearly insolvent, is administered by the union, which buys insurance for its members. Health care has been the sticking point in the contract talks.

Silver quickly rejected the offer and said his members would not vote on the deal. He countered by offering to send his members back to work immediately if the agency agreed to arbitration. The MTA turned down Silver’s offer.


While saying there is a good chance he would offer members a vote this week, Silver said that he would recommend that members turn it down because it does not go far enough to protect health benefits.

While the mechanics strike has shut down about 200 bus and rail lines run directly by the MTA, striking drivers who normally operate 12 routes for Compton-based First Transit Inc. voted to accept a three-year contract worked out by their union leadership and the company last week, said Miguel V. Lopez, a spokesman for the drivers’ Teamsters Union Local 572. The 12 routes are known as “contract lines” by the MTA, which pays First Transit to run them. The buses are painted with MTA graphics and run as MTA service.

Lopez said the union has about 250 members and the contract was approved by a two-thirds vote. Altogether, the 12 lines carry 10,000 or so daily riders, mostly in the South Los Angeles area. By comparison, a single MTA-run line on some streets in Los Angeles carries nearly 25,000 daily riders.

The Teamsters local went on strike Oct. 15, one day after the MTA mechanics union walked out. Lopez said his union members would be called back to work today and that service would resume on Tuesday.

Lopez said the key issues in the First Transit strike were wages and health care. Under terms of the new three-year deal, drivers will see wages rise to a high of $13 an hour, a $2 increase, Lopez said. He added that health benefits, which have been administered by the union, will now be provided by First Transit.

“The workers come out of this with dignity and respect,” Lopez said. “We’re just glad we can get back to work and start doing our part to get people around.”