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OHIO TURNPIKE Workers say their job can be tough



Published: Mon, January 31, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Employees say they deserve what they are paid because of hazardous conditions.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Collecting money on the Ohio Turnpike can take its toll on workers, who have to cope with frustrated drivers and physical ailments from spending eight-hour shifts in cramped booths.

"It's not pleasant," said Nicki Way, who works at the Interstate 71 interchange in Strongsville. "People who use the turnpike, the majority are rude and nasty. They holler at us and say that turnpike should have been paid for 10 years ago, that it should be free."

The turnpike's 704 toll takers and 293 maintenance workers could become the first workers to go on strike in its 50-year history. They delayed a strike set for a week ago to vote on the turnpike commission's latest contract offer.

Members of Teamsters Local 436 are voting by mail on the proposal and results are expected within a couple of weeks.

Their three-year contact expired Dec. 31 and an extension expired Jan. 17. Key issues in negotiations have been wages and health care issues.

Earlier proposal

Workers turned down an earlier proposal that would have given them annual raises averaging about 3 percent and required many to start paying some of their health insurance premiums.

Full-time toll booth employees make $33,633 to $45,468 a year, with an average salary of $20 per hour.

At their busiest times, toll takers might handle 1,000 vehicles in an eight-hour shift. The turnpike stretches 241 miles across northern Ohio.

More than a fourth of the 323 full-time turnpike employees have been on the job for at least 20 years.

"I love it," said Wayne Gauman, who collects tolls at the I-77 interchange in Richfield. "I like dealing with people. It's quick. It goes by fast."

But some say there also are drawbacks.

Besides coping with sometimes angry motorists, toll takers often get backaches from leaning in and out of their booths. Workers are allowed to sit and read during down time and can play a radio, but they always have to stand while collecting. The turnpike recently put in new pads for workers to stand on.

Alisha Urbina, a part-time collector in Perrysburg, said she likes her job and believes she is paid well, but doesn't think it's carefree work. Recently, a truck caught fire while she was on duty and a colleague used a fire extinguisher to put it out, she said.

"You have fumes and hazardous-material conditions. For those reasons, I believe that's why we are paid what we are paid," she said.




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