Though the labour disputes hit unrelated industries, one public and one private, contract negotiations broke off in both cases in disputes over funds designed to pay for employee medical benefits.

 

According to experts, this is an indication of a looming health care crisis in California.

   

In a sprawling city built around roads and freeways and already wrestling with the job action at supermarkets, the impact of a strike by Los Angeles County bus mechanics was immediate as some 500,000 passengers were forced to find alternative means of transportation or stay home.

   

Unexpected

 

Because the 2000 mechanics went on strike just after midnight on Tuesday, joined by drivers and other transit employees, many commuters learned that the bus and light rail systems had been shut down only as they were preparing to leave for work.

   

Meanwhile, those who could drive jammed roads and freeways in the Los Angeles area, which has some of the worst traffic in the nation even when buses and trains are running.

   

"I had no idea the buses weren't running," Maesha Lundy, a hotel reservation clerk, said as she sat stranded at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, where she had arrived by a regional train line not affected by the job action.

   

Lundy, 21, said she would be forced to take a taxicab the rest of the way to her job, which would take a sizeable chunk out of her pay check.

 

"I had no idea the buses weren't running"

Maesha Lundy,
hotel reservation clerk

Meanwhile the union representing Southern California grocery workers filed a $600 million lawsuit against Albertsons Inc. and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs supermarket chains, accusing them of staging an unlawful lockout.

   

Some 70,000 unionised grocery workers have been out since Sunday - many walking picket lines outside slower-than-normal supermarkets - in what threatens to become a protracted labour dispute already estimated to have cost nearly $20 million in lost wages.

   

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transport Authority contributes $16.8 million annually to the trust fund designated for union health benefits, but says it wants more insight into how the money is spent before contributing any more.

 

Many MTA passengers are the working poor whose income averages around $15,000 a year, making cars and parking difficult to afford. Some are illegal immigrants who have not been able to obtain drivers’ licences.