New Jersey back to reimbursing tolls for union employees

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 10/17/2012

A couple of years ago, officials stripped away a benefit that allowed union employees to be reimbursed for tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Well, the benefit is back, according to reports, and once again it’s exclusive for the tollway agency’s union employees.

The Star-Ledger reports that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has reimbursed 1,900 union employees a total of $250,000 after an arbitrator ruled that they deserved the benefit. The agency’s non-union employees do not receive the benefit.

It was just two years ago that the authority was in cutback mode following a scathing report from State Comptroller Matthew Boxer. The comptroller’s report uncovered $43 million in wasteful spending at the agency including extravagant bonuses, retirement pay and health plans. Boxer also noted in the 2010 report that the agency had sponsored employee bowling leagues on the taxpayer dime.

OOIDA and the New Jersey Motor Truck Association spoke out against the agency’s spending habits and called for reforms to protect truckers and other turnpike users.

And with the state Assembly threatening to privatize the turnpike system – a topic that surfaced during former Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration – the local employees’ union cut a deal to scale back wages and benefits. The cuts lowered the average salary for toll takers from $65,000 to $50,000 a year, according to a report posted online by the union.

Employees lost toll reimbursement in the deal even though trips on local turnpikes were part of some people’s jobs.

According to The Star-Ledger report, the reimbursement is back thanks to an arbitrator. The union’s president told the paper that toll reimbursements are an incentive that attracts people to work at the turnpike.

Talk of privatization flares up on occasion in New Jersey and other states. OOIDA remains opposed to the privatization of public infrastructure.

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