SPECIAL REPORT: Pike strike takes a hike - toll takers are back

| 12/1/2004

The strike on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is over.

The Turnpike Commission announced this morning - Wednesday, Dec. 1 - that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Teamsters Union, which represents the toll collectors and other workers who went on strike the day before Thanksgiving.

Workers started to collect regular tolls at some interchanges this morning, and Turnpike officials expect to start collecting normal tolls and issuing tickets at all interchanges by 9 p.m. EST Wednesday.

Those truck drivers who entered the Turnpike before that time and were not issued a ticket will be charged the reduced fee used during the strike - $2 for passenger vehicles, $15 for trucks - through 5 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 2.

Toll takers and other workers went on strike Thursday, Nov. 24, the busiest travel day of the year.

To keep the highway open and running, the Turnpike Commission waived all tolls that day, and charged the reduced toll to all vehicles after that point, regardless of how long they were on the toll road. Supervisory personnel operated tollbooths, and tickets were not issued to drivers. Some estimates put the loss to the Turnpike Commission in the millions.

The Turnpike had warned for some time before the work stoppage began that a strike could occur. Officials with the agency said talks broke down Nov. 15 over the issue of retroactive pay - essentially whether to compensate workers for any increase back to the date when the last contract expired. The contract expired Sept. 30, 2003, but union workers have worked under its terms more than a year since while negotiations continued.

The strike involved roughly 2,000 workers, including toll collectors and maintenance workers.

Negotiations between turnpike officials and the Teamsters union - which represents the toll takers and maintenance workers - broke down previously in late October. The Teamsters informed state officials at that time that the union would reserve the right to call a strike at any time after that point without notice.

Teamsters officials issued a statement blaming the work stoppage on Turnpike officials. The union indicated that retroactive pay was not the only issue left on the table when talks broke down.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Teamsters Local 77 and 250 officials said in a statement. "Job protection and secure health care are major issues that are unresolved, as are the economic issues."

A notice on the Teamsters Local 77 Web site indicated that as of Tuesday, members had not yet been contacted regarding the terms of the possible agreement with the Turnpike Commission.