As a former labor arbitrator, I find L.A. Mayor James Hahn's Nov. 6 proposal that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority go to binding arbitration irresponsible and ludicrous. In collective bargaining for new labor contracts, employers -- and in particular public agencies -- never submit disputed issues to arbitration for several reasons. First, arbitration is a crap shoot to start with, and no employer wants to get stuck with an agreement that some arbitrator has arbitrarily and unreasonably imposed on the employer or employers. Such decisions in the private sector could drive the employer out of business.
In the public sector it is much worse. Public agencies do not usually go out of business. If an unreasonable labor agreement is imposed on a public agency, either the agency cuts back on services or it raises taxes or fees. With Proposition 13 and its progeny, raising taxes is not a viable option. Because of a settlement the MTA made with the Bus Riders Union, it would be very difficult for it to cut back on services, and raising fares could cause all sorts of problems. It is not feasible for the MTA to go to arbitration. Besides, the public does not elect arbitrators to make decisions for it. We elect mayors and supervisors to make those decisions, not to abdicate them to an arbitrator.
I want to express my total frustration with the MTA bus strike. It seems that the MTA management should focus on the need of its customers, which is to get the buses and trains to run again. At this time I think Neil Silver, head of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277, has made a fair suggestion with respect to getting an independent arbitrator to solve their differences. It is obvious that the MTA has not done its job in getting the buses to run, or pleasing its employees.
I read that 1,358 active and retired mechanics voted to turn down a contract offer (Nov. 8). If such a small group of people can hold more than 400,000 travelers hostage every day, something is terribly wrong. As in the air controllers' strike, the MTA mechanics should all be fired and new personnel hired.