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LA Transit Walkout Hurts Low-Income Workers - 2003-10-14

A strike has stranded hundreds of thousands of bus and subway riders in Los Angeles. The work stoppage is having the biggest impact on low-income workers.

The city's crowded highways were even busier Tuesday as some who usually commute by public transit took their cars to work. But the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs the city's buses and subways, says most of its 500,000 daily riders have low incomes, who have no alternatives. "If there is no bus, there is no way I can get to work," said one woman.

Some 2,000 transit mechanics went on strike in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Drivers and other unionized workers refused to the cross their picket lines, and that brought most buses and subway trains to a halt. A regional commuter rail line is still running, as are buses that originate in outlying cities.

At issue in the strike is the rising cost of health care. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) contributes $17 million a year to the mechanic's union health-care fund. The union is asking for more, but the MTA says the funds are being mismanaged.

Maintenance worker LaTanya Brown worries that higher costs will be passed along to the workers. "If I take $200 a month out of my paycheck, that will really hurt me because I'm a single mother with children," she explained.

According to Don Knabe, a member on the board that runs the MTA, talks between management and the union are stalled. "Yes, we're far apart," he said. "We think that they've done some things wrong with their health fund, but the real impacted people are the people that need to get to work."

A walkout three years ago shut down the Los Angeles transit system for 32 days.

Seventy-thousand grocery clerks are also off the job in southern California. Employees of one supermarket chain went on strike Saturday, and two other chains locked out their unionized workers. The dispute was also triggered by the rising cost of health-care benefits.