NJ toll collectors union asks US Court for injunction to halt outsourcing
By Peter Samuel
The union representing toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike (called IFPTE Local 194) is seeking an injunction in federal court to prevent any further move to outsource toll collection services without the requirement that union members have job preference - called the 'right of first refusal' of jobs.
The initial request for proposals contained the preference, but the Turnpike amended the RFP to eliminate the preference. The union lawsuit claims the preference for their members was eliminated in retaliation for criticism of the outsourcing plan or "privatization" as they call it, and for mass filing of job requests with companies likely to apply for the contract.
Being retaliation for the exercise of free speech rights, the lawsuit says, the Turnpike's action in removing the preference is a violation of the first amendment or free speech provisions of the US Constitution.
In a statement this evening the president of the union Fran Ehret is quoted:
"In December, Turnpike management told us that they wanted $12 - $14 million in concessions, to stop the privatization. We offered $16 million and we may be willing to give more, but the Turnpike won't even meet with us or respond to our offer. They appear to be intent upon destroying collective bargaining and middle class jobs in New Jersey...
"This was an ugly and immoral thing to do to workers who have devoted their lives to public service. It was illegal and violates our First Amendment right to speak out against privatization. The Christie Administration and the Turnpike Authority would rather destroy the lives of middle class families than negotiate with unions."
Turnpike officials tell us that the union preference provision was excised from the RFP when it became clear the union was making use of the provision as a weapon to sabotage bids by toll collection services companies.
Their prize exhibit was a letter dated February 8 from Ehret herself to union members marked "Confidential! DO NOT POST!!" in which she said union shop stewards were organizing job applications with all the companies bidding.
Ehret wrote: "It is very important that every toll collector fill (job applications) out and give them back to the Shop Steward to return to us to submit to the companies." (the letter has many capitalizations and underlinings we've edited out)
Ehret revealed a deception planned by the union: "Retiring members will also be asked to do so (fill in jobs applications)."
The "confidential" letter made explicit the intention to frighten off proposals from outsourcing service companies: "This is critical. Many of these companies will not want to come here when they see all the union members who want these jobs."
The toll collectors union in New Jersey has the impressive title International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE).
report of Ehret letter:
union posting on law suit: