Around 8 pm in front of the MTA offices on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, about 75 drivers are still scattered around talking. The atmosphere is friendly, if not festive. Some are lingering after a long day on the picket line, 12 to 14 hours for Marie Johnson, a full-time driver. Others are there to pick up strike pay, 0, a portion of the 0 they will receive for the month. Paul Magallanes, a tall, well-spoken driver of 7 years and Greg Paez, a former Foothill driver who's been with the MTA for 4 years were disappointed. Through some glitch in the system, their checks weren't there. But, it didn't seem to lessen their resolve. "What we want people to understand, is we're not asking for anything," said Paul. "We just want to hold on to what we've got." Richard Armas, a 10 year driver, agreed. "They want to take us back to where we started. They don't seem to remember that we're people who have mortgages to pay and kids we want to send to college. They don't see us as people with dreams, they just see us as numbers."
They talk easily; the bravado quotient is low. They are dismayed at the MTA's campaign to discredit them with the public. They fear their message will be lost without the funds to adequately counteract the agency's hired PR gun. But they hold firm. "If we back down now," Magallanes says, "it will be that much harder for our children, the future workers in this city." Herbert Guillen reminds me that in spite of the MTA onslaught, "The Bus Rider's Union supports us."
They blame the strike on the city's lack of interest in the riders themselves. "These are the poorest people in the city. A lot of them are not even citizens, so they don't vote," says Armas. He believes the city has no political incentive to support the bus riders. "The big money is in the rail system." With building contractors and corporations making large campaign donations, City Hall wants to keep the rail projects moving forward. But the drivers point out, that for the majority of the riders, the subway is not an option. "A lot of people work in Santa Monica, where the subways don't go, and the [privately held] Santa Monica buses only run as far as downtown," says Paez. "We go everywhere. Even when it's not safe." Others, like Guillen, suggest even shadier motives - Riordan's family ties to the privately owned bus companies like Foothill.
As the strike moves into it's 24th day, they are hesitant about predicting the end. "I'm ready to go back to work," says Magallanes. "But I don't see it ending for at least a couple of weeks. And if we have to, we'll strike for a year." They point out that with 4 votes on the MTA board, Riordan, who they say has not been attending the negotiations, could effectively "end the strike tomorrow." Armas, whose wife is a teacher in the LA Unified School system laughs uneasily and says, "I just hope it ends before my wife goes on strike."