Commissioner Simpson: Turnpike worker concessions ‘unprecedented’ in New Jersey

WOODBRIDGE – The Turnpike Authority has crossed all of the crazy perks, questionable benefits, and exorbitant costs that were plaguing the agency off of the list conveniently provided by the state comptroller last year, according to Authority chairman and Transportation Commissioner James Simpson.

Simpson told the press after the Authority board accepted a sizable union concession package: “I think it’s unprecedented across the state.”

The leverage that allowed the Authority to negotiate an immediate 25 percent reduction of salary and $35 million savings over two years is the fact that, as Simpson said today, toll booth collection could be an entirely mechanical procedure in five years, technology willing.

Union rep Fran Ehret, president of the Turnpike worker’s local, said this is a two-year window for toll workers to begin transitioning to other fields.

“It gives people a chance to transfer into other departments,” she said, or train for other professions, learn other skills, or take advantage of the tuition reimbursement that the Authority provides.

The union will continue to exist; they represent maintenance employees, office workers, and other trade professions at the Authority.

The union looked at the deal as a win, Ehret said, a lot better than “taking 12 bucks an hour,” which was the offer the Authority was prepared to make to the workers if the agency followed through with the privatization agreement.

Such an agreement is still on the table for the Authority, Simpson said, with four qualified vendors champing at the bit should the rank-and-file Turnpike workers overturn the agreement in place.

The union’s executive board already unanimously approved the concession, but the full-timers are in for a vote on Saturday; part-timers on Monday. Ehret said they’ll know the final decision by Monday night.

Simpson said the Authority is prepared to call an emergency meeting to approve one of the four qualified vendors if the union membership balks.

Commissioner Simpson: Turnpike worker concessions ‘unprecedented’ in New Jersey