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What if they held a strike and no one came?
Big Labor on the Rocks in Los Angeles

By Joseph M. Giardiello 
joe@politicalusa.com
October 16, 2000

In the last month, two major labor union actions were called in Los Angeles County.  A Democratic and union stronghold, even the city’s Republican (in name only) mayor could hardly be called an enemy of big labor.  Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the picket lines.

No one cares. 

Although the transit strike has been devastating to a small number of lower income workers, the highways aren’t grid locked with new commuters (well, not any more than usual), businesses are continuing as normal, and there is a noted lack of public outcry to end the strike.  The mayor even brushed off criticism of his refusal to cancel his bicycling trip to France in the early days of the strike. 

As the strike enters its second month, there has been a remarkable lack of emotion in the negotiations.  Local newspapers scour the countryside to ferret out those impacted by the strike and find few really complaining.  Labor bosses, more unconvincingly by the minute, tell the drivers to hold on for just a few more days.  There’s a better deal out there.  Somewhere. 

Yet negotiations are deadlocked almost where they began.  The union is demanding higher pay and the elimination of flex-time provisions in the contract while the transit authority has made its “last, best and final” offer of a raise of slightly more than 10% over three years. 

And still, the unions face that significant roadblock in Los Angeles.  No one cares.  Out of a population of over 9.4 million people, less than 2% of travel is done with public transportation. Just 450,000 use public transportation for work.  Compare that with the 6.6 million using the subways in New York on any given day and you can see why many aren’t even aware of the strike.

As always people are finding ways to cope.  Getting rides, walking, buying cars.  There is even a car dealership playing off the strike, saying they make loans to anybody.  In fact, the public transportation system will likely find itself with fewer riders than before the strike as former riders opt for the convenience of their own car.  How many drivers will the MTA have to lay off when a settlement is finally reached?

On Friday, Jesse Jackson joined the fray, hoping to bring a conciliatory tone to the negotiations.  All parties vowed to work through the weekend to find a resolution. 

Meanwhile, after the week of rolling strikes in the county, Local 660, Service Employees International Union, representing over 47,000 county employees, called a general strike last Wednesday.  It was the first countywide strike since the 1960’s.  But after only one day, union bosses decided to call it off. 

The official reason for returning to work was the intervention of Cardinal Roger Mahony who called for workers to return to work while good faith bargaining continued.  The next day, union leaders also claimed the county had given into some of their demands.  They only want to help the poor they claimed. 

Yet everyone knew the real reason for the return to work.  Over 10,000 workers never joined the strike.  Strength on the picket lines was dwindling fast.  Union leaders, sensing a rout, made the stunning decision to return to work, tails between their legs. 

Some of the more radical workers denounced the decision.  Scattered pockets of resistance popped up around the county, but even the union bosses denounced it. 

The union was beat and they knew it.  Any attempt at another general strike would be disastrous.  Workers couldn’t trust the unions.  The public won’t understand why the service bureaucrats should get a bigger raise than the police and firemen.  And the union couldn’t afford another embarrassment.

All of which may impact the November elections in California.  If Republicans play their cards right, they could easily hang the union walkouts around the necks of every Democratic candidate financed by big labor.  But that may be asking too much.  

Comment on the latest column by Joe Giardiello

© Joseph M. Giardiello, 2000


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View expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Political USA.


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