New Jersey Turnpike cancels preference for union members in RFP - retaliation for union interference

March 3, 2011

New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials say Teamsters Local 194 has been interfering in their outsourcing of toll collector services to a private contractor, and running a campaign to undermine the chances of the Turnpike getting competitive bids. And they say the union was exploiting a provision in the RFP that would have given union members a preference ("right of first refusal") to jobs.

So they've issued an Addendum to the RFP eliminating the requirement that a toll services contractor offer existing toll collectors preference.

A "Dear Brother/Sister" letter (see nearby) to union members by local union president Franceline Ehret dated Feb 8th and stamped "Confidential" lays out details of a union campaign to get their members to make so many applications for jobs with the potential contractors, they'll give up and not make bids.

Ehret says: "Many of these companies WILL NOT want to come here when they see all the UNION MEMBERS who want those jobs. Many of these companies won't want to have to deal with a UNION SHOP or a fight over UNIONIZING the workers." (see third par in letter nearby)

The union president brags that when company officials toured Turnpike facilities the previous day and saw the picket line one company had said there and then they wouldn't bid.

"It shows we can succeed in getting them to back off," Ehret says in the confidential letter.

The president calls it a "fight of our lives, trying to protect our middle class jobs, wages and benefits."

It is a call for all union members to show up with family and friends to make huge crowds of protest.

Relations between top Turnpike officials and the New Jersey Turnpike Employees Union, known more commonly as Local 194 are bad. Turnpike officials say the union has made false claims to the media of offering pay and conditions concessions which are mostly savings already agreed to.

The union contract expires June 30.

Base pay for toll collectors is currently $65k, and the Authority would immediately drop this to $59.5k, with a reduction over four years to $49.5k, according to a Bergen Record report by Karen Rouse.

The union has proposed a $2k rollback and a two year pay freeze.

Complaints against toll collectors

A year back a local ABC TV station ran a story about "dozens of complaints" by customers of bad behavior by toll collectors, drivers accusing collectors of calling them racial slurs, cursing them, making lewd propositions and insulting them. James Simpson, state transportation commissioner and chairman of the Turnpike said on the TV program that if any such complaint could be corroborated "I will personally rip that toll taker out of the lane."

Union officials complained the Turnpike had given the damaging materials to the media and was embarking on a campaign to vilify them.

But the original RFP for private toll collector services as issued January contained a paragraph 6 "Right of First refusal" that was a major concession to Union members. It stated "The Contractor must give each employee separated from employment as a result of this contract with NJTA the right of refusal to accept a Toll Attendant position..."

But with the Union exploiting this to attempt to torpedo the whole outsourcing by scaring off bidders, the Turnpike pulled the Right of First Refusal privilege.

An addendum to the RFP dated Feb 25 states that paragraph 6 is deleted in its entirety and replaced with this:

"The Contractor shall be under no obligation to offer employment as a Toll Attendant to an NJTA employee who is separated from employment as a result of this contract..."

It merely requires equal opportunity.

Contractors are now free to hire whoever they wish in proposals which are due March 14.

A choice of contractor is scheduled for a meeting of the Turnpike Authority board April 27.

The procurement is an initiative of the Christie administration especially chairman of the Turnpike James Simpson so it is by no means certain the board will approve a recommended contractor.

By law the Governor can veto minutes of state boards like the Turnpike, stymying their operations, and in several cases Christie has done this. Christie has said bluntly that the job of toll collector is not going to be around long because all-electronic tolling is more efficient. The implication is the outsourcing of the toll collector jobs will only be for a single three year contract.

Meanwhile another development is resignations.

One source at the Turnpike tells us many employees see the prospects for toll collector jobs are grim regardless of the outcome of the outsourcing. They are leaving the Turnpike in significant numbers. By one account some 300 have left in recent months but that number is unofficial and unconfirmed.

Mixed mode lanes

Also this weekend all the 136 cash toll lanes on the Turnpike will be changed to also accept E-ZPass transponders. These lanes have been equipped with readers, lane controllers and other gear to take E-ZPass ever since E-ZPass was installed in 1999/2000.

But the lanes have been signed and operated as cash-only.

Beginning Friday night, if weather permits, three crews will be moving north along the Turnpike uncovering signs at interchanges which say "E-ZPass accepted in all lanes."

Major rationale for opening the cash lanes to transponder equipped vehicles is to reduce the need for motorists to change lanes, and hence smooth traffic flow.

However it is another small step toward reducing cash collection.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-03-03

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