Tens of millions of Americans rely on public transportation every day, requiring access to timely mass transit to arrive on time to work, appointments, school, and more. Largely invisible, but crucial for public infrastructure and an essential part of today’s global economy, are public transportation workers who keep Americans riding to daily destinations. Yet, despite the necessity of these employees to keep the U.S. going, they remain underpaid and receive poor benefits. Standing up to the injustice and below-par pay and benefits are the Los Angeles bus drivers, mechanics, and utility workers, who decided to strike last week.

Struggling to retain public transit employees, mechanics, and utility workers in recent years, the LA communal transit leaders are now faced with the large obstacle of keeping residents of the city and surrounding areas moving.

In a report recently submitted by Laura Rubio-Cornejo, general manager of the Department of Transportation, she wrote, “As recently as 2021, the largest share of employees leaving the company had a year or more of tenure, but throughout 2022 and 2023 more than half of all drivers who separated from employment had been with the contractor for less than three months,” the report reads. “In 2023, slightly less than 60% of newly hired drivers left the company within 3 months and over 80% left the company within the first year of their employment.”

With the city struggling to hire and retain new public transportation employees, resolving the current strike is crucial, especially when mass transit is not just important in aiding city residents to get around but is also a key part of urbanization. 

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Recognizing the significance of this workforce is Lourdes Garcia, principal officer of Teamsters Local 572, who stated, “Our members are the heartbeat of this city, tirelessly ensuring that residents, especially those from our most vulnerable communities, reach their destinations safely… It’s high time our city leaders and MV Transportation recognize the invaluable contributions of our members and the indispensable role they play in our communities.”

The reality of the strike is that these employees have felt the brunt of neglect for years. MV transportation mechanic, Carlos Romera, remarked, “The truth is that we have been forced into this position after years of neglect by MV Transportation, and Los Angeles city leadership has the power to make it right… We’re simply asking to receive what other transportation workers in Los Angeles get: fair wages and a fair retirement like others doing the same work.” With the massive positive impact these workers have on a city’s economy, fair wages and fair retirement seem minimal if city leaders and transportation companies consider the massive negative impacts this strike will have.

Teamsters Local 575 members have been in negotiations for months with the LA leaders and the MV Transportation contractor, advocating for fair wages and improved benefits for this workforce. The MV Transportation workers aid thousands of residents in downtown LA, as well as other areas like Echo Park, Crenshaw, Fairfax, and others traveling through Union Station, in reaching their destinations. 

While these employees are on strike, action plans are still being discussed to help get the city running again and to improve pay and benefits for public transit workers. Rubio-Cornejo recommended that the city amend the existing contracts with MV Transportation, increasing driver wages from $20 an hour to a base pay of $24.15 per hour for all drivers across all contracts or offering performance bonuses. 

While pay and benefit increases are estimated to cost the city over $6 million for the remaining fiscal year, with public transportation at the heartbeat of a thriving economy, risking a continuing strike and struggling to hire and retain employees is a critical issue that must be addressed.