PHILADELPHIA – Toll collectors on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (search) went on strike Wednesday, just as Americans were hitting the road for Thanksgiving.
The strike was announced by union leaders. Anticipating a walkout, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission decided to waive tolls on Wednesday and have nonunion employees staff tollbooths Thursday, charging a flat fee instead of regular tolls.
Negotiations have been rocky between turnpike officials and unions representing toll collectors, maintenance workers and office employees.
In a joint statement, Teamsters (search) locals 77 and 250 said managers refused to meet with union leaders Tuesday night, saying members should simply accept management's offer.
"We truly regret the inconvenience to the traveling public, but everyone should remember that we were left with no realistic alternatives," according to a statement released by two Teamsters locals.
Management described its offer made Nov. 15 as generous and criticized union leaders for not sending it to the membership for a vote. Management issued a statement Monday saying the offer includes a fully paid health care package as well as annual pay increases. It did not say how large the increases were.
The union's statement said management was offering less with each successive proposal and accused turnpike officials of trying to provoke a strike.
Union members had been working under the terms of a contract that expired Sept. 30, 2003.
Turnpike spokesman Bill Capone said Wednesday morning that although no formal negotiating sessions had been going on Tuesday night, there was informal communication continuing until about midnight.
"Unfortunately, we weren't successful in that regard, so the union decided to walk at 4 a.m.," Capone said.