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LA City transportation workers authorize strike

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City bus drivers, mechanics and utility workers, who provide service to downtown Los Angeles and surrounding areas, have voted overwhelmingly to strike, their union announced Wednesday.

Teamsters Local 572 members said they've been in negotiations for months with the city of Los Angeles and contractor MV Transportation in efforts to ensure fair wages and improved benefits. MV Transportation workers serve thousands of residents in downtown LA and areas such as Echo Park, Crenshaw, Fairfax, and those traveling through Union Station.

The union represents about 360 MV Transportation workers, who drive and maintain the city's transit fleet, including DASH, Commuter Express, Cityride and LAnow. These services are operated through contractual services with MV Transportation, which is responsible for hiring and training drivers.

Though the union members authorized a strike, action plans are still being discussed. City officials are also preparing to meet with the workers to address their concerns.

"The truth is that we have been forced into this position after years of neglect by MV Transportation, and Los Angeles city leadership has the power to make it right," Carlos Romero, MV transportation mechanic, said in a statement. "We're simply asking to receive what other transportation workers in Los Angeles get: fair wages and a fair retirement like others doing the same work."

"Our members are the heartbeat of this city, tirelessly ensuring that residents, especially those from our most vulnerable communities, reach their destinations safely," Lourdes Garcia, principal officer of Teamsters Local 572, said in a statement. "From school to crucial medical appointments, our drivers are the lifeline connecting people to essential services. It's high time our city leaders and MV Transportation recognize the invaluable contributions of our members and the indispensable role they play in our communities."

MV Transportation could not immediately be reached for comment.

City leaders have been aware of the union's concerns and calls for support. Council President Paul Krekorian and Councilwoman Heather Hutt, chair of the Transportation Committee, introduced a motion on Jan. 18, 2023, to address the bus driver shortage as well as to examine possible wage increases.

In a recently submitted report, Laura Rubio-Cornejo, general manager of the Department of Transportation, recommended the city amend existing contracts with MV Transportation to increase driver wages. Bus drivers could see their wage increased by one or a combination of ways such increasing the base pay to $24.15 per hour for all drivers across all contracts, or by performance bonuses or pay increases to new hires in their first two years of service.

Starting wages for new drivers are currently $20 per hour with pay scales varying from contract to contract on a yearly basis.

According to Rubio-Cornejo's report, the coronavirus pandemic changed the city's approach to hiring bus drivers -- and ongoing market and health issues continue to exacerbate the staffing shortage and cause delays in routes being on-time.

She also said the city's rates for drivers are among the least competitive in the region.

Rubio-Cornejo wrote in her report that the LADOT and the contractor have made "strides" in hiring to fill vacancies, but the greatest obstacle they face is the retention of new hires.

"As recently as 2021, the largest share of employees leaving the company had a year or more of tenure, but throughout 2022 and 2023 more than half of all drivers who separated from employment had been with the contractor for less than three months," the report reads. "In 2023, slightly less than 60% of newly hired drivers left the company within 3 months and over 80% left the company within the first year of their employment."

An increase in the base rate to $24.15 per hour for all contracts is estimated to cost the city $6.2 million for the remaining fiscal year 2023-24. Funding to cover the contract and increase wages would come from Proposition A Local Transit Assistance Fund, according to the report.

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