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OHIO Token progress: Turnpike strike looms



Published: Tue, July 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The turnpike workers union hopes to get $1-an-hour salary increases in each year of a three-year deal.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The potential for a strike around Labor Day looms for Ohio Turnpike workers if they are unable to work out a contract with the turnpike commission.

The 900 turnpike employees, including about 300 in the Mahoning Valley, have authorized their union, Teamsters Local 436, to strike if a new three-year contract with the turnpike commission is not ironed out.

The authorization votes were taken over the past eight days in various regions across the state.

The turnpike workers switched unions in March from Electrical Workers to the Teamsters and have been working without a contract since then, said Rick Kepler, Local 436 organizer.

Union organizers said little progress has been made in negotiations over the past three months.

Union's goals

The union is looking for $1-an-hour salary increases in each year of a three-year deal, Kepler said.

The average full-time toll worker earns $18 an hour. The average full-time turnpike maintenance worker receives $17.50 an hour. Part-time toll workers make $13 an hour on average. There are no part-time maintenance workers at the turnpike commission.

Also, the union does not agree with a turnpike commission proposal to have its workers pay a portion of their health care costs, Kepler said.

Commission optimistic

The turnpike commission is "optimistic" that a contract can be reached with the union, said Lauren Hakos Dehrmann, its spokeswoman. But if one cannot be reached, it will not close the 241-mile turnpike, she said.

"The potential for a strike is there, but we're hopeful it doesn't come to that," Hakos Dehrmann said. "The turnpike would remain operational if there's a strike. We're finalizing a plan to keep it operational."

It would be the first strike in the turnpike commission's history, and this is the first strike authorization given by the turnpike's employees, Kepler said.

Deadline set

The union is giving the commission until July 31 to work out a deal. If an agreement is not reached by then, any unresolved issues would go to a neutral fact finder, who would make nonbinding recommendations to both parties.

If either party rejects the recommendations -- it would take a three-fifths vote by the union to reject them -- the employees would strike, Kepler said.

"We're hoping for an agreement, but it doesn't look that way," he said.

If the July 31 deadline passes, the fact finder would hold a hearing early next month. He would have 14 days to issue a report and the two sides would have seven days to accept or reject it, Kepler said. The time line would result in a strike around Labor Day if the proposal is rejected, he said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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