NJ Turnpike & unions settle - cuts in toll collector pay but staff jobs kept for now
By Peter Samuel
The New Jersey Turnpike has reached a settlement with two unions representing its 800+ toll collectors that provides for significant pay cuts and only guarantees jobs pending implementation of all-electronic tolling. In return the Turnpike will not pursue outsourcing or privatization of cash toll collection services.
Toll collector pay will be reduced from around $64k/year to $57k, then in the second year to $49k. Also some work rules will be rationalized to allow more efficient deployment of toll collectors.
There weren't the votes on the Turnpike board to continue a hardline "No-talk-with-Local-194/We're-privatizing."
Swing vote commissioners key to deal
A couple of swing voters on the board persuaded the Governor's commissioner and Turnpike chairman James Simpson to offer Local 194 at the Turnpike proper the same deal he'd struck with the Garden State Parkway's quieter union Local 196.
At one point last week the Governor's office had ordered "No deal with Ehret," that being Local 194's president Franceline Ehret who organized noisy mobs of toll collectors at Turnpike Commission meetings and undercut right-of-first refusal in the outsourcing procurement by blitzing ACS and other potential and actual bidders with hundreds of job applications from union members.
In a rapidly moving drama Simpson Tuesday (Apr 26) pulled a vote on outsourcing from the agenda at the regular monthly meeting of the board Wednesday (Apr 27) then scheduled a special meeting of the commission board for this Friday (Apr 29). At around the same time it became clear that Simpson did not have a majority of the seven on the board to sustain a privatization OK without an effort first to settle with the bigger Local 194.
"Ignoring pay cut proposals"
Ehret complained to some effect on the swing members that the Turnpike was not responding to serious concessions being offered.
Tonight the Turnpike spokesman Tom Feeney is saying that the agreement is "tentative" and still has to be endorsed by both sides, but it is probably the best both can get.
So it seems at this point likely to hold. Implementation of cashless tolling put the toll collectors' unions in a weak bargaining position, and they have done well for their members to dodge the 'privatization' bullet.
Plans for (cashless) all-electronic
The Turnpike plans to abolish cash toll collection on the Garden State Parkway first, eliminating about 170 jobs.
All-electronic tolling is simpler on the Parkway because it is a barrier or point toll system, and also because there is a relatively small proportion of the traffic from out of state.
With all traffic able to be tolled at highway speed with an E-ZPass transponder or license plate camera read from gantries over the mainline, motorists are much less delayed after cash collection has been banished.
Turnpike proper more complicated to automate
The New Jersey Turnpike proper with nearly 700 toll collectors and a ticket or trip-toll system which computes tolls by matching entry and exit at side toll plazas (except for the ends) produces smaller motorist benefits with all-electronic.
Also the Turnpike has a larger percentage of out-of-state traffic, the license plate tolling of which will benefit from 'hub' processing of images not yet implemented, plus reciprocal arrangements between states - items currently being pursued by the Alliance for Toll Interoperability, and likely to bear fruit in the period 2012-2015.
It is accepted all around that cash toll collector jobs will only be around for a few more years, because all-electronic toll collection is so much cheaper and allows for free flow of traffic.
The settlements are about managing the phase-out of cash collection jobs in a manner that minimizes the grief of staff and provides savings to the Turnpike.