Pike strike: they're talking

| Monday, November 29, 2004

When it comes to wages, toll takers are telling officials at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to show them the money. On Monday, Nov. 29, a meeting was scheduled between about 2,000 turnpike workers who have been on strike since the day before Thanksgiving and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the request for talks came Sunday, Nov. 28, from the Teamsters union. The union represents about 2,000 striking toll takers, maintenance workers and office staff. The location of the talk session was being kept a secret, but if it occurred as scheduled, it would be the first round of bargaining since the informal talks broke down Nov. 24.

About 220 managers have been working 12-hour shifts at tollbooths, according to The Inquirer. They were joined Friday by up to 70 temporary workers. The Turnpike Commission is paying an agency $16.25 an hour for each nonunion worker hired.

The commission waived tolls on Thanksgiving Day, for an estimated $1.7 million to $2 million in lost revenue. Since Thursday, the commission has been collecting flat-rate cash tolls of $2 per passenger vehicle, and $15 for trucks, to speed up service at toll plazas.

The labor dispute centers on wages and working conditions and Turnpike chief executive Joe Brimmeier said Teamsters locals 77 and 250 were making unrealistic demands. Senior toll takers have been offered a 40-cent-an-hour raise each year to about $21 at the end of the three-year pact, he said.

Eighty percent of the striking workers are in job classifications that earn, with overtime, nearly $50,000 a year, Brimmeier said.

Union spokesman Ken Zawacki has said the main cause of the strike was a management proposal to allow layoffs.

According to reports from The Associated Press, after the strike was called on Nov. 24, Teamsters set up pickets at several Turnpike entrance ramps and asked trucker members to avoid taking the highway. At one point, Two big rigs briefly blocked one interchange until tow trucks arrived. The AP reported they then drove away.

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