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Gov. John Kasich took office putting unionized state and local government employees on notice that he is out to end collective bargaining and weaken organized labor groups. Earlier this month, he again signaled that Ohio Turnpike toll collectors are on his hit list but this time offered up a reason why they, too, should be targeted.
In an interview with The Washington Post the governor recounted the challenges that lie ahead as he and state lawmakers began negotiating the next biennial operating budget with an $8 billion deficit looming. Columnist George F. Will, noting that the governor is considering privatizing prisons or leasing the Ohio Turnpike, paraphrases Kasich as saying there are people getting paid $66,000 a year to collect tolls that machines might collect.
While we didn’t hear Kasich’s interview with Will, Kasich has made similar remarks before. His staff confirmed for us that Will recounted his remark correctly and also cited a report on 2009 data from the Buckeye Institute.
But Teamsters Union Local 436, which represents toll collectors, just announced in January that it had agreed to a new three-year deal with the Ohio Turnpike Commission which freezes their hourly pay at $19.50 to start and tops out at $24.41 after five years. Even at the top pay scale, a toll collector who works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks would earn just under $51,000.
In light of that, Politifact Ohio thought it’d check out the governor’s claim.
As it turns out, many toll collectors make big money from overtime work. Some tack on upwards of 30 percent of the base salary in overtime pay, according to the Ohio Turnpike Commission's 2010 ending year salaries.
Indeed, in 2010, five toll collectors made more than $66,000 a year. The highest earner collected $80,719.99, which included $29,964.23 in overtime pay. Of the five, three worked at the Lordstown East location at exit 216 along the toll road. The other two worked at the Eastgate location at exit 238 near the Pennsylvania border.
To be fair, the median pay for the collectors was about $52,000. And only 13 of the 286 full-time collectors earned over $60,000 in base and overtime pay in 2010. Also, in addition to the new contract with a pay freeze, about 90 of the 643 full- and part-time collectors took a buyout as the turnpike commission began trimming its salary budget now that it has the E-Z Pass system.
Still, Kasich is looking for more relief salary relief, especially now that the E-Z Pass system is in place. Also, lowering the turnpike commission's spending could make leasing it a more attractive deal. Kasich has said that he wants at least $3 billion for the turnpike, though he has not said how many years his ideal turnpike lease would cover.
PolitiFact Ohio sought comment from Teamsters Union Local 436 President Gary M. Tiboni and the union’s direct representative for the Turnpike, Alisha Urbina, but neither returned our calls.
So where does that leave us on the Truth-O-Meter?
Kasich is correct that some toll collectors make as much as $66,000 a year. But only five who made that much in 2010 and only 13 of the state’s 286 full-time collectors (about 4.5 percent) earned over $60,000 that same year. That’s additional information that provides clarification.
We rate Kasich comments Mostly True.
The Washington Post, "John Kasich: Spoiling for a fight in Ohio", Feb. 6, 2011
Ohio Turnpike Commission, 2010 Ohio Turnpike Commission wages
The Plain Dealer, "Gov. Kasich wants $3 billion deal to lease the Ohio Turnpike," Feb. 10, 2010
The Buckeye Institute, news release, with link to data, announcing searchable database for turnpike wage and pension data, Nov. 10, 2010
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