By Joseph M.
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.
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
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.
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© Joseph M. Giardiello, 2000
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