OHIO TURNPIKE Workers approve contract

The union called off a potential strike to take the vote.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Ohio Turnpike workers approved a three-year contract Wednesday after nearly striking last month for the first time in the toll road's 50-year history.
Workers voted 434-274 to accept the Turnpike Commission's offer, according to Teamsters Local 436, which represents 704 toll takers and 293 maintenance workers.
The commission made the offer after a 13-hour bargaining session on the eve of the planned strike Jan. 24. The union called off the walkout to take a vote.
"Were we close? Our people were prepared to go," union president Gary Tiboni said. "They had the signs in their cars."
Contract negotiations
The contract contains a 3.5 percent wage increase in the first year and a 3 percent raise in the second and third years for full-time employees. Part-time workers get 3.5 percent raises in each of the three years.
The union had asked for a 5 percent wage increase versus the 1 percent raise the commission originally offered.
Turnpike employees earn an average of $20 per hour. Their last three-year contact expired Dec. 31 and an extension expired Jan. 17.
Health care also was a major bargaining point. Tiboni said a key element of the contract for the union was a cap on health care costs.
Employees previously did not pay toward their health care costs. The contract provides an enhanced health plan that will cost $66 a month for family coverage beginning in April. That cost can go no higher than $99 a month by 2007.
Employees also have the option of participating in the turnpike's standard health plan at no cost.
The Turnpike Commission will vote on the contract Feb. 22. Turnpike executive director Gary Suhadolnik said he expects it to be accepted.
"We're pleased that we've reached an agreement on what we think is a fair contact," he said.
The Ohio Turnpike is the state's only toll road. It costs $8.95 for a car to travel the entire 241-mile distance across northern Ohio.

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