Pay cuts are being cited in the suicide death of a New Jersey Turnpike toll collector, who once saved a child abducted from Irvington.
Pat Kelly, 58, was facing the second of two $8,000 pay cuts when he took his life with a gun on July 16, according to reports.
"You didn’t need to make such a high demand of our toll collectors,” said Franceline Ehret to the Star-Ledger. Ehret is president of the collectors union, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local No. 194.
In 2011, New Jersey toll collectors assigned a two-year contract, ratifying an almost 25 percent pay cut over the life of the contract in an effort to starve off the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s threat of privatization; dropping salaries from around $65,000 to $49,500.
"I hope what Pat Kelly did, God forbid, doesn’t become a trend," Ehret said. "We know that our toll collectors are facing extreme hardships thanks to these pay cuts. Your loyal employees deserve better. ... You can do the right thing now. You can give our toll collectors back this last $8,000 pay cut."
Ehret’s comments drew fury from State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, who said it was “tasteless” to bring politics and contracts into the discussion after someone lost their life.
"First of all, condolences to the Kelly family," said Simpson, who chairs the Turnpike Authority. "I just felt that (Ehret’s) timing was really off. Here we had this really tragic employee suicide, and to throw it on the backs of the Turnpike Authority is not appropriate."
With the pay cut looming, Kelly became nervous he wouldn’t be able to pay his bills and that his family would lose their home, Ehret said of information the toll collector’s family told him after his death.
The father of three took a second job last year to help make ends meet, Ehret said, adding, "It shouldn’t have happened.”