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Published: Thursday, 11/25/2004

Union, officials still discussing new contract

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

While their counterparts in Pennsylvania walked off the job yesterday, workers on the Ohio Turnpike continued counting the days until their own labor contract expires at the end of next month.

And while union and turnpike leaders expressed cautious optimism yesterday that a contract might be reached by the current pact's expiration on Dec. 31, a Teamsters Local 436 Web site announced strike votes beginning yesterday and continuing through Tuesday for Ohio Turnpike maintenance workers and toll collectors.

"We are still talking," Gary Tiboni, president of Local 436, said yesterday. "Negotiations are progressing very slowly. We are doing our best to get our people an agreement."

Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike's executive director, likened the negotiating process to lawmaking, remarking that legislators accelerate their work as the end of a session approaches.

"We still have a month to go," he said. "I'm hopeful that we'll reach an agreement that's fair to the workers, fair to the turnpike, and fair to the customers who pay the tolls that pay our wages."

Travelers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike got a free ride yesterday after two Teamsters locals went on strike, nearly 14 months after their last contract had expired.

Managers were to take over in Pennsylvania's tollbooths today, collecting flat fees of $2 per passenger vehicle and $15 for trucks and buses on turnpike sections where the toll is usually assessed based on distance traveled.

Travelers entering or exiting the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Ohio border will be charged those same tolls, so anyone crossing the state line and then traveling east of I-79 will pay twice; cars normally pay a flat $1.50 at the state line.

Motorists who have E-Z Pass transponders will pay the normal fares whenever they are less than the strike fares.

Mr. Tiboni declined to predict whether Ohio Turnpike workers would stay on the job past Dec. 31, nor did he identify contentious issues in the Ohio talks.

But the union's on-line Negotiation Update, prepared before contract talks held Monday and Tuesday, said turnpike management has proposed a wage freeze, co-payment for health benefits, and revisions to work rules, scheduling practices, and overtime pay.

It contrasted those proposals with a $200 million pledge the Taft administration has made to cover lost revenue from a proposed toll reduction for commercial vehicles that is intended to lure big trucks back to the turnpike from parallel, secondary routes.

"In spite of a record profit year 2004, in spite of a $200 million gift from the state of Ohio, Berea [turnpike headquarters] continues to demand million of dollars of concessions from the pockets of Ohio Turnpike workers," the notice said.

The next negotiation session is scheduled for Dec. 1.



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