LABOR DISPUTE Ohio Turnpike workers issue strike notice

The contract for 704 toll takers and 293 maintenance workers expired Dec. 31.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Ohio Turnpike workers issued a strike notice Tuesday, six weeks after a seven-day walkout by Pennsylvania Turnpike workers failed to disrupt toll collections.
It would be the first strike since the Ohio Turnpike opened in 1955.
The Ohio Turnpike Commission has authorized the use of flat toll rates if workers strike. It's a plan that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission used with success while its workers were on strike during the busy Thanksgiving holiday.
Labor analysts say Ohio Turnpike employees should take note of what happened to workers in Pennsylvania.
"They went on strike and they weren't missed, and that's not the type of situation you want to happen," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
Earliest date
Ohio Turnpike workers could go on strike Jan. 21 at the earliest after giving a 10-day strike notice Tuesday, said Gary Tiboni, president of Teamsters Local 436.
"We've played our card now it's up to them," Tiboni said.
If workers strike, the price to drive on the state's only toll road would be $1 for a car, $5 for a bus or small truck and $10 for a larger commercial vehicle. Distance traveled would not matter.
"We're prepared to operate and keep the turnpike open for our customers if it's necessary," said Gary Suhadolnik, Ohio Turnpike director.
After 1,800 Pennsylvania Turnpike employees went on strike Nov. 24, drivers paid flat fees of $2 for cars and $15 for commercial vehicles.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike commission, which increased tolls in August, collected slightly more during the strike than the old tolls would have produced and an estimated $2.2 million less than the new tolls.
The turnpike has gone back to charging by distance but will consider using a flat fee long term because it allowed traffic to flow more efficiently.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has not released the terms of its workers' new contract. Two Teamsters locals representing the workers did not return calls seeking comment.
"I think the way the turnpike authority handled the strike, it certainly got the parties to the bargaining table more quickly," said Youngstown State University professor John Russo, co-director of the university's Center for Working Class Studies. "What's the use of the strike if the turnpike is pretty much going to be operating as it always was?"
Not concerned
Tiboni said he's not concerned with what happened in Pennsylvania.
"I just know what we're prepared to do at this point," he said.
The three-year contract for 704 Ohio toll takers and 293 maintenance workers expired Dec. 31, but workers agreed to extend it to Jan. 17.
A key issue in contract talks involves the commission's request that workers pick up a portion of their health care costs. Workers currently do not pay any of the cost.
The turnpike commission approved a fact finder's report that recommended workers pay $66 a month for a family plan, less than what management pays at $99 a month. The union rejected the report Tuesday.
The union is asking for a 5 percent wage increase, vs. 1 percent the commission has offered. The fact finder recommended 3.5 percent the first year and 3 percent in the second and third years of the contract.

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