Listen – Senator Bartolotta
Listen – Senator Ward
HARRISBURG – During a Senate hearing today, lawmakers questioned the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s accelerated plan to switch to an all-electronic tolling (AET) system and lay off nearly 500 employees.
Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Kim Ward (R-39) and Senate Labor and Industry Committee Chair Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46) scheduled the hearing to explore concerns about why the decision was considered and approved with no notice to employees or legislators after employees were previously assured their jobs were safe.
In a letter on March 16, Pennsylvania Turnpike Chief Executive Officer Mark Compton told employees, “I want you to know that our overall operation will not convert to AET until our planned date of October of 2021, as we assured previously; nor will it change our commitment that impacted employees can remain employed with the Commission until at least January 2022.”
The Turnpike Commission made no mention of any plans to lay-off employees during a hearing with the Senate Transportation Committee on May 12. A week later, the Turnpike Commission ratified a new contract with employees on May 19.
On June 2, the Turnpike Commission abruptly announced the new plan to eliminate nearly 500 jobs, with layoffs set to begin on June 18. Pennsylvania Turnpike Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey and Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian both testified that Governor Wolf was notified in advance that the layoff plan was under consideration, but no notice was given to lawmakers or employees prior to the June 2 announcement.
Senator Ward pointed out the concerns with how the Turnpike Commission made the decision.
“I am deeply concerned by the timing of this process to lay-off 500 Pennsylvanians. The Turnpike Commission’s swift action to terminate these positions occurred within two weeks after a new labor contract was negotiated,” Ward said. “This decision will impact hundreds of hard-working Pennsylvanians who were promised on numerous occasions that their jobs were protected until 2022. They were prepared, but the rug was pulled out from beneath them. Now, they are scrambling to find jobs in one of the worst economic times in our Commonwealth’s history.”
Senator Bartolotta also noted that timing of the layoffs was extremely troubling due to the severe impact on employees.
“The last thing we need during these times of historical unemployment is to add 500 additional individuals to the unemployment rolls,” Bartolotta said. “Instead of having at least a year and a half to plan a transition to other employment, these hard-working Turnpike employees have only a few weeks to find work in a job market that remains crippled by Governor Wolf’s excessive business closures and slow re-opening.”
International Brotherhood of Teamsters International Vice President-East William Hamilton said the layoffs were a “coordinated hit” on employees. Hamilton said that concessions were made in contract negotiations based on the promise that jobs would be protected until January 2022.
Teamsters Local Union 250 Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer Charles Gaston pointed out that many employees made decisions on education and job training programs based on the assurance that their jobs would be available for at least another year. In addition, Gaston said that while healthcare coverage would be extended for employees, a new cost-sharing agreement would force employees to pay more for coverage even while they are unemployed.
During the hearing, the Turnpike Commission also suggested that they are examining another toll increase in 2021, despite the fact that current toll rates in the state are among the highest in the nation.
Nolan Ritchie firstname.lastname@example.org (Senator Ward)
Eric Kratz email@example.com (Senator Bartolotta)