Mass. Turnpike Authority to cut employee perks

September 15, 2006

In an effort to improve the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's image in the public eye, Transportation Secretary John Cogliano is slashing $1.4 million in perks for nonunion employees and demanding greater productivity by cutting lunch breaks and holiday time, the Boston Herald reported.

The changes, announced to managers Thursday, will eliminate several benefits Cogliano said were surprisingly generous, such as a policy that allowed employees who use fewer than four sick days to claim free health insurance the following year. Nonunion employees now will pay 20% of their insurance costs.

"These benefit changes will restore the public trust in the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority," said Cogliano, who was appointed chairman after the resignation of Matthew Amorello. "The toll payers and taxpayers can be assured we are being responsible with their money."

The announcement is the latest in a series of changes at the Turnpike in recent weeks, with Cogliano targeting a public perception that the agency is secretive and free-spending with public money, according to the Boston Herald.

Cogliano also recently removed hidden security cameras that monitored employees and rejected plans for a $10 million move of Turnpike offices that would have given the chairman a large office with a private bathroom and deck, the newspaper reported.

The benefit changes will affect about 190 nonunion employees and managers. Cogliano said some of the benefits employees were enjoying are unusual for the public sector and out of line with policies in the rest of the state government.

Cogliano also is eliminating a 75% discount on MBTA passes for Turnpike employees as well as toll-free riding privileges on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Currently, both Turnpike employees and retirees can wave their badges at a tollbooth and pass through without paying.

"We're public servants and we should be paying tolls just like the taxpayers," Cogliano said.

However, that benefit is allowed at the MBTA, where employees ride for free as part of their compensation.

The most expensive perk provided to Pike employees was free health insurance if they called in sick fewer than four days, a policy that soaked up $1.1 million annually, according to the Boston Herald.

Some of the benefit changes are aimed at saving money by improving productivity, eliminating a floating holiday for employees and cutting 15 minutes off their current hour-long lunch break. Those changes will save about $156,000 a year, Cogliano said.