OHIO TURNPIKE Talks continue to avert strike

Workers planned to picket at all interchanges.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Ohio Turnpike Commission and its workers resumed talks Sunday aimed at avoiding the first employee walkout in the turnpike's nearly 50-year history.
The turnpike's 704 toll takers and 293 maintenance workers were scheduled to strike at 12:01 a.m. today over wages and health care if negotiations failed to produce an agreement. Talks began at 3 p.m. Sunday and continued late into the night.
The State Employment Relations Board ordered the negotiations after the two sides couldn't reach a deal in meetings Wednesday and Thursday, turnpike spokeswoman Lauren Dehrmann said.
"It is still our hope that we're going to avoid a work stoppage," she said.
Flat toll planned
The Turnpike Commission last month approved a plan to use a flat toll to keep traffic flowing during a walkout.
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.
Motorists who travel long distances on the turnpike would get a bargain. Those who travel between one, and in most cases two, interchanges would pay more.
It normally costs $8.95 for a car to travel the turnpike's entire 241-mile span across northern Ohio.
The Turnpike Commission plans to staff the toll booths with supervisors and hire temporary workers to keep the roads clear of snow. All 31 interchanges would remain open during a walkout, although some toll lanes would likely be closed.
Workers are planning to picket at every toll plaza, according to the Web site for their union, Teamsters Local 436.
Their three-year contact expired Dec. 31 and an extension expired 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 -- or choose another option with no monthly payment but higher deductibles. The union rejected the fact finder's report.
The union is asking for a 5 percent wage increase versus the 1 percent the commission originally offered.
The fact finder recommended 3.5 percent the first year and 3 percent in the second and third years of the contract for full-time toll collectors and maintenance workers.
Turnpike employees earn an average of $20 per hour.
The Ohio Turnpike's toll has been raised only twice since it opened in 1955. The first increase was in 1982 and the other increase was staggered over five years from 1995 to 1999. The average toll currently is 4 cents per mile for cars.

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