July 23, 2002 at 4:00 PM EST - Updated July 26 at 11:45 PM
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Ohio Turnpike workers represented by the Teamsters have voted to authorize a strike if talks for a new labor agreement fail to produce a contract.
The strike authorization is a first for the 900 bargaining unit employees, said Teamsters Local 436 President Gary Tiboni.
The local represents toll collectors and maintenance workers on the highway that stretches 241 miles across northern Ohio. About 90 percent of workers voted in favor of authorizing the strike, the Teamsters said.
The deadline for an agreement is July 31, after which any unresolved issues would go to a neutral arbitrator, who would make recommendations. Tiboni said a strike could happen if either side rejects the arbitrator's recommendations.
Turnpike Executive Director Gino Zomparelli said he remains optimistic that a strike will be averted.
"I think the Teamsters' and the commission's negotiating teams are both negotiating toward reaching an agreement," Zomparelli said.
There have been about 12 bargaining sessions since talks began May 28, a few weeks after the Teamsters took over as the union for the 600 full-time and 300 part-time workers. Three more meetings are scheduled for next week.
"We have never left a negotiating session," Zomparelli said. "We are trying to give them as much time as necessary to explain their requests, and they have a long list."
Tiboni said one issue the union wants to address is giving part-time workers the chance to fill full-time positions paying about $5 more per hour for the same work. Only about half of the applicants for the full-time jobs are successful. Full-time ticket-takers earn $18 to $19 an hour, he said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)