Union says tollway workers risk lives for too-little pay

Illinois tollway laborers who work in the front lines of traffic picketed outside headquarters and demanded "equal pay" at a meeting Thursday.

Teamsters Local 700's four-year contract, which covers 438 employees, expired in March, and negotiations are ongoing between the union and management.

"There are two types of guys that work at the Illinois tollway: Guys that have been hit and guys that are going to get hit," union business agent Ted Rowley said, quoting a workplace maxim.

Local 700 members include road maintenance specialists who clear debris off the road, do repairs and plow snow.

Union officials contend members are underpaid compared to peers working at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Similar average top wages at IDOT are $35.56 an hour but $32.72 at the tollway, they said.

"We have worked closely and collaboratively with all of our unions to ensure our employees are treated and compensated fairly," Executive Director Elizabeth Gorman said in a statement.

"This year alone we have reached agreements with both our SEIU and AFSCME employees."

Union representatives remembered two tollway workers killed on duty: David M. Schwarz in 2017 and Vincent Petrella in 2014.

"These members put their lives on the lines every day working for your tollway roads," business representative Vincent Tenuto said. "All they want and deserve is equal pay."

Joseph Spillone, who had just finished a night shift, told board directors "your road doesn't run without us. If there's a semi-(trailer) across all lanes, we clear the road."

Local 700 members picketed on the north side of Ogden Avenue outside tollway offices in Downers Grove.

The tollway's "current negotiations with the Teamsters are progressing and both sides believe we are close to a final deal," Gorman said.

"Given that negotiations are close to a resolution, we are disappointed in today's actions but we remain committed to getting a fair deal done."

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