Monday, October 20, 2003
Councilmen Ask Court to Give Them Vote in Transit Strike
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Two Los Angeles city councilmen who sit on the Metropolitan Transit Authority board filed suit Friday seeking an order compelling the MTA to permit them to participate in efforts to end the transit strike.
Councilmen Antonio Villaraigosa and Martin Ludlow are excluded from voting on any settlement of the strike by members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents MTA mechanics, because they took campaign contributions from the union. MTA General Counsel Steve Carnevale ruled last year that the exclusion is required under Public Utilities Code Sec. 130051.20.
That section was enacted by the passage of SB 89, sponsored by then-Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles. It applies only to the MTA, and provides that board members may not “participate in, or use his or her official position to influence, a contract decision if the member, alternate member, or employee 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.”
“We believe we need to get those talks rolling, we believe we need to participate,” Villaraigosa said. “And so we are filing a lawsuit today to vindicate our constitutional right to participate as board members and as citizens.”
Villaraigosa and Ludlow spoke downtown in front of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse facing Hill Street, which was devoid of MTA buses because of the four-day-old transit strike.
The suit, in which the councilmen are represented by Robert M. Dohrmann and D. William Heine of Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers, asks for a temporary restraining order barring the MTA from excluding them from deliberations on strike matters.
A spokesperson for Ludlow said a Los Angeles Superior Court judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on the TRO request this morning.
The complaint also seeks a declaration that Sec. 130051.20 “does not bar members of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority who have knowingly accepted a contribution of more than $10.00 from a labor organization in the preceding four years from participating in the MTA’s deliberations and decisions concerning collective bargaining negotiations with such labor organization....”
The “contract decisions” mentioned in the statute are those involving vendors who do business with the MTA, not those with its employee unions, according to the complaint. It notes that the contributions banned by the law are those from a “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.”
Carnevale’s ruling also applies to Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn and county Supervisor Gloria Molina—both also members of the MTA board.
Ludlow said Hayden’s bill was meant to apply to “corporations and companies that were engaged in the process of attempting to buy off votes on the MTA.”
The councilman said union contributions are exempt from the bill, which does not preclude board members from “engaging in the very serious process of setting the working conditions, the benefits, the health plans and the pay of the employees who keep this MTA system running.”
Ludlow said he and Villaraigosa “have collectively somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 years of collective bargaining experience.”
Villaraigosa was in the Legislature when Hayden’s bill was passed. Ludlow was Villaraigosa’s deputy chief of staff when he was in the Legislature and was the political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Carnevale could not be reached for comment today.
Meantime, talks resumed in Pomona Friday between the transit agency and striking mechanics. The four-day-old strike has stalled mass transportation in the county, forcing 500,000 commuters to find other ways to get to work.
The ATU, which represents some 2,000 striking mechanics, is seeking a new contract with the MTA and the two sides are bogged down over the management of the union’s nearly depleted health trust fund and how much the MTA should pay for the rising cost of its employees’ health care.
MTA Chief Executive Officer Roger Snoble said Thursday the presence at the site of contract talks of any of the four sidelined MTA board members would be “awkward” for the MTA and the other board members.
Ludlow said the issue was one of enfranchisement.
“Taking us off disenfranchises millions of people in L.A. County, because the MTA board was created with 13 board members, not eight,” he said.
Villaraigosa said the contribution he received from the ATU was about $250 to $500, and he got it when he was running for mayor against Hahn.
Heine said the lawsuit could be heard by a judge on Monday. He will seek to win a temporary restraining order suspending Carnevale’s interpretation of the Hayden bill.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company