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Strike by Transit Workers in L.A. Stranding Thousands

Aired September 18, 2000 - 1:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It was a frustrating Monday morning in Los Angeles. A transit strike that began Saturday has idled busses and trains. And while motorists on the city's perpetually clogged expressway system may not notice a difference, many low-income commuters have been left without a way to get to work.

Here's Greg LaMotte in L.A. He's closely following the story. What's going on, Greg?

GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, unlike in New York City, where just about any and everyone uses mass transportation of some sort, the overwhelming majority of people who do so here in Los Angeles are primarily lower-income folks: 60 percent of the people who use the bus and rail systems here in Los Angeles make less than $15,000 per year and 75 percent of the half million commuters being affected today don't own a car.

This morning, we ran across one gentleman who works at a Los Angeles delicatessen. Normally, he takes the bus to get to work. Not so today. He was fortunate enough that his boss picked him off, but he is very concerned the if the strike should linger on he could be impacted big time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN BARTHELMEW, DELI WORKER/BUS RIDER: Looking for work or on an unemployment line. Looking for a new job somewhere closer to home around here in the Hollywood area. Or finding another alternative of transportation, relying on somebody else, but I don't think anybody else close to me that has transportation are willing to get up this early in the morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMOTTE: The strike is basically over the issue of split-shift workers: bus drivers and rail operators who work, say, four hours in the morning, four hours in the afternoon. As it stands today, those operators get paid for the time in between those two shifts when they are not working. It amounts to a lot of overtime.

The MTA, Metropolitan Transit Authority, wants to put an end to that and pay the drivers for the time they actually are behind the wheel. The union is insistent it will never agree to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES SQUARE, UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION: ... will turn around in the year 2000 when the economy is booming and give that back. That would just take us back to the dark ages.

We came out of the dark ages in '74. We want to stay in the future. And that is the biggest problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMOTTE: I should point out that only 3 percent of all trips taken in a day in Los Angeles are actually done so on mass transportation. Most folks here are not impacted by the strike. And given the fact that the majority of the people who do use the mass transportation system don't own cars, it's not like the freeways are suddenly going to be inundated with, say, a half million new vehicles.

It's our understanding the union is demanding that a state mediator be involved in the negotiations before it's willing to return to the bargaining table. The MTA told us minutes ago it is in contact with the mediator for the State Relations Board. He is in turn calling the head of the union in an attempt to get them back to the bargaining table as early as this morning.

In the meantime, it appears that the people who can afford the least are being impacted the most.

Greg LaMotte, CNN, live, Los Angeles.

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