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Some Truckers Win, Others Lose In Pennsy Pike Strike; Strike Strains Beginning to Show

November 27, 2004

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A strike by unionized Pennsylvania Turnpike toll takers and other workers continued through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and into Monday.
Map from the Pa. Turnpike web site at www.paturnpike.com.
Map from the Pa. Turnpike web site at www.paturnpike.com.
Teamster locals involved in the strike Sunday posted web site messages claiming slow progress and urging members to stay united. The Turnpike web site carried a stark message denying any progress at all and advising striking workers they could return to work under the terms of the old contract. The Turnpike said Friday it has hired 50 temporary workers and will hire more if the strike continues. The Turnpike employs 2,192 union workers and 446 management personnel. The strike is the first in the toll road's more than 60-year history.
Meanwhile, Turnpike managers continued collecting flat-rate tolls of $2 per car and $15 per truck regardless of distance traveled -- a bargain for big trucks crossing the state from New Jersey to Ohio, a trip that normally costs $140. However, there is no bargain for unionized carriers with contracts that forbid drivers from crossing picket lines. Rather than enjoying a bargain, those carriers have been forced to route trucks around the 531 overall miles of toll road, including the 359 east-west miles and a 110-mile extension runs from King of Prussia to Scranton.
"It stinks," Mark Watkins, a terminal manager for the Hess Trucking Co. in Harrisburg told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "My real loss will be in driver productivity and time.” Most Turnpike alternates involve steep grades, two-lane roads and congestion, he explained.
According to some reports, some drivers are expensing posted tolls, paying the flat rate and hoping to pocket the difference.
At issue in the strike are wages, benefits and job security. According to some reports the Turnpike wants the contractual ability to lay off employees.
That’s probably due to the increasing popularity of E-ZPass. The Turnpike instituted E-ZPass automated toll collection on a limited basis in November of 2000, expanding E-ZPass to the entire system in December of 2001, though only for cars. E-ZPass was made available for trucks in December of 2002. As of that date two years ago, the roadway had already issued almost a quarter of a million E-ZPass tags.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike was the first major toll road in the U.S. and opened its first 160 mile section between the Harrisburg and Pittsburgh areas in 1940. The Turnpike serves approximately 61,090 commercial vehicles and 412,318 cars a day, according to 2002 figures.

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