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Wednesday October 18, 2000

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L.A. transit strike comes to an end

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Negotiators for 4,300 bus drivers and rail operators reached a tentative agreement yesterday to end a monthlong strike that has crippled the nation's second-largest transit system.

Both sides refused to discuss details of the proposed pact until it is ratified by United Transportation Union drivers, who will be presented with the proposal at 5:30 p.m.

The drivers' union and Metropolitan Transportation Authority had bargained through the night at the behest of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who began mediating the talks last week.

"We were down to overtime. ... We had just about given up after all night long, then we were awakened this morning by some angel that blessed us out of somewhere with a fresh start, a fresh idea and we shared it with the MTA leadership," Jackson said.

"Today we emerged with a victory and I'm glad to be associated. ... I think there must be some balance between labor, business, the government and customer service. All four must win," he said at a news conference.

The strike that began Sept. 16 stranded an estimated 450,000 commuters. At 32 days, the strike is the third-longest in Los Angeles history.

On Monday, sticking points in the talks involved MTA's plan to change work rules to reduce overtime and increase the use of part-time drivers. The union opposed those demands.

If the pact is ratified, bus service will resume today and train service will resume tomorrow, MTA spokesman Marc Littman said.

"I'm relieved. That is great. I no longer have to foot it," said Rick Espinosa, 30, of Los Angeles.

Espinosa, who works out of his home, used the bus about four times a week for errands such as shopping and trips to the gym. He recently bought a bicycle to cope with the loss of transportation.

"It was a real inconvenience, to put it mildly," he said.

The strike was particularly hard on the city's working poor and minorities.

While only about 7 percent of commuters in Los Angeles County use public transit, those who do often have few alternatives. Sixty-eight percent have household incomes under $15,000 per year, and nearly three-quarters of bus riders are black or Hispanic, according to the MTA.

"We regret the hardship and inconvenience that it has caused to transit in Los Angeles County, but I can assure you our bargaining with UTU was necessary to protect the long term financial interest of the MTA and continue to maintain and expand service to our customers," said County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

On another labor front, talks were to resume yesterday between Los Angeles County and a union representing 47,000 of its employees and both sides expressed optimism that a resolution might be near.

Los Angeles County's chief administrative officer, David Janssen, said he hopes to reach an agreement by midweek.

The union shares Janssen's optimism, a spokesman said late Monday, but added that the talks were still at a sensitive stage.

"We are pleased but there are some important issues out there we need to resolve," said Mark Tarnawsky, spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 660.

The SEIU called a general strike a week ago, but suspended it one day later at the request of Cardinal Roger Mahony, who said it was hurting the poor.