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LA bus mechanics' walkout shuts down system

By Randy Childs | October 24, 2003 | Page 11

LOS ANGELES--The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the nation's third largest public transit system, ground to a halt October 14 as 2,200 mechanics and maintenance workers walked off the job to protect their health care benefits.

More than 400,000 commuters were left looking for other means of transportation. MTA Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky cynically exploited the commuters‚ plight to attack the mechanics' union, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1277, by saying, "These hard-working people are going to be held hostage to a set of demands which are unreasonable and unmatchable."

In reality, it's the MTA that's holding both the riders and the workers hostage with their outrageous demands. The ATU currently runs the workers' health care fund--but management wants to take over the fund and increase workers' monthly premiums from $6 to $209. The MTA also wants to slash retiree health benefits from $500 a month to a measly $142 and impose a two-year wage freeze.

As one union member told Socialist Worker, "It's an inconvenience to the public, and we want to do our jobs. But we also want to be compensated fairly. In fact, the union worked without a contract for over a year in an effort to reach an agreement. But MTA is going for the jugular. In the media, MTA bosses have been smearing the ATU with bogus allegations of 'mismanagement' and 'waste' of the health fund."

What hypocrisy! Only a few years ago the MTA spent tens of millions of dollars on a lavish new high-rise office building for its top-level administrators.

These upside-down priorities are well known to union members. "They'd rather spend $10 million in attorney fees than give us a 25-cent raise," said one striker.

Over 4,300 bus and train operators represented by the United Transportation Union which is also in contract negotiations--are honoring the ATU's picket lines, cementing the strike's effectiveness.

After having threatened to let the strike drag on for months, management returned to the bargaining table after only a few days of picket lines. This strike shows the power of solidarity. By defending their health care benefits, mechanics can win a victory for all workers--as long as we don't let people like Yaroslavsky divide us.

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