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Strike Hurts LA County Bus Drivers

October 14, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Cathy Jones got her last paycheck of about $1,000 in late September.

``I looked at it and I cried,″ said Jones, one of about 4,300 Los Angeles County bus and train operators who have been on strike for nearly a month. ``I didn’t know what I was gonna do as far as taking care of my three children.″

``I have to be upbeat,″ she said. ``The Bible says the Lord will provide. So that’s what I have to believe.″

The walkout that began Sept. 16 has affected as many as 450,000 regular commuters, mainly the poor, students and the elderly who cannot afford cars.

But bus drivers say they are also hurting. While drivers earn $50,000 per year on average, including generous overtime, many make far less.

Jones, 38, hasn’t received the strike benefits promised by the United Transportation Union of about $600 per month yet and didn’t save much before the strike. She and her husband separated in January.

Jones estimates she pays about $1,500 a month for groceries, rent to live in the converted garage behind her sister’s house in Los Angeles, utilities and other necessities _ money she can no longer spare.

She economizes on meals and visits food banks, picking up rice and beans, pears, yogurt and sharing what she doesn’t want with other strikers.

``My oldest boy, my 16-year-old, told me he’s really getting sick of macaroni and cheese,″ she said.

Saundra Newman, another driver, is worried about how to make the $1,100 payment on a home she bought in July. The money is due on the first of the month.

``I have nothing. Nothing,″ she said.

The single mother said she is using credit cards to buy groceries for herself and her 16-year-old daughter.

``I’m watching the lights, the water, the gas. Yesterday it was really cold. We were under blankets. I’m like, ’I’m not turning the heater on.‴

Before the strike, Newman, who made $12 per hour, had earned about $25,000 for the year with the help of generous overtime.

``There’s a big grip of fear because I’m in such a powerless situation,″ she said. ``I’m broke. I can’t cross the picket line because if I go back under these terms, I’ll have nothing anyway.″

Although she hopes for a quick end to the strike, ``I’m not gonna give up,″ she said. ``I have to fight for this.″


On the Net:

Los Angeles County: http://www.co.la.ca.us

Union: http://www.seiu.org

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