Turnpike workers' union warns Ohio it plans strike Jan. 24

| 1/12/2005

Teamsters Local 436 has informed the Ohio Turnpike Commission that workers on the road intend to strike.

Gary Suhadolnik, executive director of the toll road, confirmed that the agency received the letter, which listed the start date for a possible strike as Monday, Jan. 24. However, he is still hopeful that a settlement can be worked out with the 997 toll collectors and maintenance workers who belong to the union.

“We anticipate some negotiations,” he said. “We would like to resolve this. We’re interested in reaching an agreement that’s fair to our workers, that’s fair to the Turnpike Commission and fair to the customers whose tolls pay our wages. We’re always willing to talk.”

No talks are yet under way, but Suhadolnik was optimistic they would start soon.

“I don’t think that a strike is in either parties’ best interest,” he said. “We think our employees do a good job, and I think our employees want to be able to support their families, so I think, in both cases, we’d like to reach an agreement.”

The commission’s contract with the workers expired Dec. 31, 2004. However, the two parties later extended the agreement to Jan. 17.

If a strike does occur, tollbooths along the road will be staffed with turnpike management and some temporary and non-union workers.

In addition, a flat toll plan announced earlier will go into effect. Vehicles will not be given a ticket when they enter the road, but will be charged when they exit based on what category toll takers think they belong in, Suhadolnik said.

Under that plan, tractor-trailers would pay $10 to cross the state on the highway. Single unit trucks would pay $5, and passenger cars would pay $1.

Suhadolnik said he expected the plan would allow traffic to flow smoothly on the turnpike should a work stoppage take place.

“We think this plan will work fairly quickly,” he said. “With the flat tolls, there’s less change, there’s less processing. I think this will work very well, although we prefer to keep our operations as they are.”

“We plan to be open for business. We have preparations in place to maintain the road if the weather requires us to do so, we have plans to collect tolls. And so I think we’re all set, though we’re hopeful that we won’t have to institute this plan.”

A strike, if it does take place, would be the first since the road first opened in 1955, The Associated Press reported.

Turnpike officials had warned of a possible strike late in 2004. But the prospect became much more real earlier this week when union workers voted overwhelmingly to reject a fact finder’s report that would have prevented a strike.

The vote, announced Jan. 11 on the Teamsters Local 436 Web site, was 497-151 against the fact finder’s report. The fact finder was appointed to work out differences between turnpike management and union workers.

Turnpike spokeswoman Lauren H. Dehrmann confirmed that the Turnpike Commission had voted earlier to accept the report fact finder’s report.

However, union officials, in a notice posted on the local’s Web site before the vote, had urged the membership to reject the report.

“After careful review of the decision rendered by Fact Finder Mancini, it is the recommendation of the union and a unanimous vote by the negotiating team to reject his findings,” the union statement read, adding that negotiators strongly recommended “that each member votes to reject the decision.”

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor