LOS ANGELES-Talks between striking unions and the county’s Metropolitan Transit Authority collapsed last night, virtually assuring that a half-million Angelenos who depend on buses or rail lines will face at least several more days of hardship.

Though MTA officials wanted to keep bargaining, union officials from the LA County Federation of Labor walked away from the table. “It has become apparent that no agreement can be reached at this time,” Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras told the press after the walkout. No new talks are scheduled and the two sides remain far apart, he added.Unions representing nearly 7,000 drivers, mechanics, clerks and others walked off their jobs Sept. 15, claiming that they’re underpaid and overworked. The MTA, which manages most of LA County’s transit system, says the typical bus driver makes $50,000 a year and thousands more in overtime.

Realizing that there’s little chance of getting the unions to take an across-the-board pay cut, MTA negotiators have been pushing for changes in work rules to save money. Under the current contract, clerical duties or other simple jobs must often be performed by highly paid mechanics or drivers. The contract also allows drivers to rack up hundreds of hours of costly overtime each year.

The toll the strike is taking on both transit users and local businesses is mounting with each passing day. Some restaurants, bars and retail stores–many of which are in CBD office buildings–have been forced to either cut back hours or close altogether because many of their workers and regular patrons can’t make it in. Many hotels are also suffering because their maids and other modestly-paid employees depend on public transit to get to their jobs.

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