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A Tale of Two Cities’ Transit Strikes

Dec
18
2005

A public transit strike – even in one of America’s largest cities – is hardly major national news. But when the employees of New York’s transportation backbone threatened to walk off work this week, it made headlines from coast to coast, whereas no one seemed to notice when Los Angeles’ bus and subway workers walked off the job four years ago.
The difference in attitudes between the two cities is strikingly clear when you look at the labor laws governing who may and may not walk off the job. In New York, state laws that prohibit strikes by essential public employees, which cover police and firemen in other States, also prevent transit workers from walking off the job. In California, I suppose, public transit just isn’t considered essential.
That public transportation is more important in New York than Los Angeles’ make sense, prima facie. In one City, subway and bus rides are an everyday part of life for people of all classes—and in a City with limited parking, it is a necessity for most. In the other, public transportation is the realm of the working and immigrant classes.
Whereas New York internet mogul Nick Denton will take you on the subway to get uptown, Los Angeles’ Arianna Huffington may not even know how to get from her Brentwood home to the Sunset Strip on an MTA bus.
Los Angeles’ public officials will probably tell you that they are taking public transportation seriously—and on the face of it they are. This week alone, Metro Los Angeles approved a plan to connect Downtown to the USC Campus to Culver City, and Congressman Waxman moved to lift the ban preventing Subway-to-the-Sea.
But for some reason, public transit workers in L.A. do not rise to the level of “essentialness” as police or firemen. To suggest that they were would probably be considered heresy in a place where the patronage of public employees union is considered more important to many politicians than the public good. Maybe that’s why, at an average salary of $72,000 in 2001, Los Angeles transportation workers get paid 33% more than their New York counterparts.
These same public officials bemoan the fact that Angelenos refuse to get out of their cars and on to the busses and subways they so generously provide us with our tax dollars. Yet if they want the public to start taking public transportation as seriously as, say, New Yorkers, shouldn’t they?

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:58 AM | Permalink

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