Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, November 10, 2003


Page 1


Judge Orders MTA to Let Mayor, Councilmen Vote on Strike


By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs Friday ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to allow four of its board members, including the mayor and two city councilmen, to participate in efforts to end the transit strike.

Janavs issued a preliminary injunction sought by Councilmen Antonio Villaraigosa and Martin Ludlow, who were barred from participating in Board of Directors deliberations on strike matters under a legal opinion issued by MTA General Counsel Steve Carnevale last year. Carnevale said the exclusion was required under Public Utilities Code Sec. 130051.20 because the two took campaign contributions from the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents striking mechanics.

The exclusion also applied to Mayor James Hahn and Supervisor Gloria Molina, both of whom also serve on the MTA board.

Villaraigosa, Ludlow and Hahn said at a City Hall press conference after the ruling they would use their influence to seek arbitration of the labor dispute, and suggested that former Supervisor Ed Edelman serve as arbitrator. Ludlow said Edelman has tentatively agreed to play that role and union representatives have expressed support for the idea.

Hahn said he usually opposes arbitration of labor disputes where public money is at stake—an argument MTA officials have also used—but believes it may be the only way to end the strike. He suggested arbitration might include a stipulation that the result could be vetoed by a supermajority of the MTA board.

Janavs’ ruling came as the union rejected what the MTA had characterized as its final offer. The mechanics, who rejected the offer by a vote of 1,267 to 87, have offered to return to work if the MTA agrees to binding arbitration.

Janavs, who last month declined to issue a temporary restraining order sought by the two councilmen, enjoined the MTA from “denying any member of the MTA Board of Directors the right to participate in and vote on the deliberations and decisions of the MTA Board of Directors concerning collective bargaining negotiations between the MTA and any labor organization because the Board member has accepted a campaign contribution from the labor organization” while the litigation over the meaning of the code section proceeds.

Villaraigosa and Ludlow had argued that Carnevale was misinterpreting the Public Utilities Code section, which applies only to the MTA.

Sec. 130051.20(a)(4) provides that a board member may not “participate in, or use his or her official position to influence, a contract decision if the member…has knowingly accepted a contribution of over ten dollars…in value in the past four years from a participant, or its agent, involved in the contract decision.”

Other subsections of the statute specify they apply to any “construction company, engineering firm, consultant, legal firm, or any company, vendor, or business entity seeking a contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.” But the voting ban does not include any list of particular types of entities.

The councilmen were represented by D. William Heine of Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers. Heine argued in court papers that Sec. 130051.20 “was enacted to correct a very specific problem:  the corrupting effect, and the appearance of corruption, caused by contributions made by construction contractors and their lobbyists to the members of the MTA Board of Directors who were responsible for awarding MTA’s construction contracts and related services.”

The MTA’s argument relies on the erroneous assumption “that the Legislature intended to use the word ‘contract’ to mean something entirely different in Section 130051.20(a)(4) than what it means when used in every other subsection of that statute,” the moving papers filed on behalf of the two councilmen declare.

The papers go on to argue that the legislative history of the measure supports the view that only the relationship between MTA board members and the agency’s vendors—not its employees—was targeted.

Villaraigosa said at the press conference that the law, enacted by SB 89, a 1997 measure sponsored by then state Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles, was “never intended to include union contracts.” He said he hoped that the addition of four new voices to the board’s deliberations would help end the “vitriol and finger-pointing” which have characterized the stalled negotiations.

The MTA is governed by a 13-member board.

The three officeholders declined to predict that their participation, along with Molina’s, would tip the balance in favor of arbitration, which the board has previously rejected. But Villaraigosa said there has “never been unanimity on the board.”


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company