Pennsylvania Turnpike workers now on strike

| Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Toll takers and other workers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are now on strike.

In response, the Turnpike Commission announced that it will waive all tolls until midnight, Wednesday, Nov. 24, to help keep traffic rolling.

Starting Thursday, Nov. 25, the Turnpike will charge flat tolls regardless of the distance vehicles travel on the road. No tickets will be given out as vehicles enter the highway. Management personnel will fill in for union workers during the strike.

Turnpike officials said earlier this fall that in the event of a strike, passenger vehicles would pay a flat toll of $2, and trucks would pay a flat toll of $15, regardless of the distance they travel on the road. E-ZPass customers whose fares would normally be less than those amounts will pay the smaller of the two charges. That flat fee goes into effect Thanksgiving Day.

No tolls would be collected in some locations – such as the Clarks Summit and Keyser Avenue interchanges on the Northeast Extension – The Scranton Times Tribune reported.

Pennsylvania Turnpike officials sent out a warning Tuesday, Nov. 23, advising highway users that the road’s toll takers and other union workers might go on strike the day before Thanksgiving – the single busiest travel day on the Turnpike.

Officials had been warning for some time 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 while negotiations continued.

Previous notices said the strike could include roughly 2,000 workers, including toll collectors and maintenance workers.

No new talks are scheduled at this time.

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.

Joseph Brimmeier, CEO of the Turnpike, said in October that the agency was ready to run the road should a strike occur. Non-union employees are on standby.

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.”

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