Toll privatization plan draws local push-back

Posted: February 18, 2014

WOODBURY Weeks before a proposal to privatize toll collections on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway is considered by the state Turnpike Authority, some South Jersey officials are expressing opposition to it.

The Gloucester County freeholders and Monroe Township Council members have adopted resolutions against the proposal to hire a contractor to oversee manual and E-ZPass collections.

The authority issued a request for proposals late last year, due by March 7. The authority board of commissioners is expected to hear presentations and make a decision by the end of April.

Gloucester County Freeholder Deputy Director Joe Chila said in a statement toll collectors "have already taken major cuts in their earnings in order to save their jobs from privatization."

The freeholders' resolution, unanimously approved Feb. 5, reads: "Private management of tolls will not guarantee long-term cost savings, and could just as easily raise costs for our state and for motorists as the company seeks to maximize profits."

Monroe passed its resolution last Monday.

The actions, though symbolic, are aimed at influencing the Turnpike Authority's decision.

In 2010, a state task force Gov. Christie charged with identifying the benefits of privatizing services recommended outsourcing toll collection. Authority officials have said the saving would be in the millions, but spokesman Tom Feeney said Friday no estimates could be certain before proposals were in.

A similar measure was considered in 2011, but a decision was postponed after the toll workers union accepted contract concessions. Top salaries dropped from nearly $65,000 to about $49,500, according to the authority, and new hires enter at $12 per hour.

"These are wages that [had] been progressing for 40 years," said Kevin McCarthy, president of the union representing turnpike toll collectors and maintenance workers. "At one point in time, this was a very proud job."

At stake are nearly 1,000 jobs, including part-time and full-time workers and supervisors.

"We are trying our best to get them to reconsider it," McCarthy said.

He said of the local resolutions supporting his workers: "It's their residents and their citizens that work out there."

Like Eddie Wowolo, 56, of Williamstown, who collects tolls at turnpike Exit 4. Wowolo has been with the authority for nearly 18 years and works at the Wal-Mart in Deptford after his morning shift because the pay isn't enough.

"This job, it is not an easy job, as people may see it," said Wowolo, a native of Ghana and father of three grown children. He cited the cold weather and constant inhalation of fumes.

But, he said: "I'm looking forward to retiring through the [authority]. I've been paying into the pension for so many years now."

Contracts signed in 2011 included an agreement that indicated collectors' jobs would no longer be available after July 2013.

"They got two more years of employment," Feeney said. "That's been extended, and that's the point we're at now."

At the Assembly's State and Local Government Committee meeting last week, former union president Fran Ehret said: "We were left with no choice. I mean, you take what you can get rather than be on the unemployment line.

"Now the workers are once again in limbo," she said.

McCarthy said toll collectors had received a notice saying they would be terminated "no sooner than June 30 of this year."


afichera@philly.com

856-779-3917

@AJFichera

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|