New Jersey's Turnpike Authority may vote as early as next Wednesday on privatizing its toll collectors.
It would mean that union jobs that now pay $65,000 a year would turn into privatized jobs paying $25,000 annually.
One veteran toll collector says he's concerned about paying for his two kids' schooling.
"The worst thing I would want -- to go home and tell them that I'm not going to provide for their education," Bill Mullins, a 55-year-old toll collector for 32 years, told NBC New York.
Turnpike Authority Chairman James Simpson expressed concern for hundreds of toll collectors who can expect to lose their jobs, but said the agency has a bigger responsibility.
"Manual toll collection is simply way too expensive," Simpson said.
"While we all feel a responsibility to our workers, we recognize a higher commitment to our toll-paying customers," he added.
Turnpike Executive Director Veronique Hakim said $12 an hour is the base figure that companies that bid to operate the toll booths must pay.
But the idea of taking a $34 an hour job and turning it into one paying $12 is not sitting well with Democrats.
"Wages are driven down and people end up in public welfare programs," said Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) at a public hearing in Trenton.
And NJ AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech told the committee "I don't even know if you can eat at McDonald's at $12 an hour, never mind put a meal on the table for your kids."
"Is this the greater good that the families of this state want to see?" Wowkanech asked, while promising to bring hundreds of union members to next week's Turnpike Authority meeting.
The jobs, whether public or private, may not be around for long.
Authority Chairman Simpson said all-electronic tolling is only a few years away.
And former Turnpike Chief of Staff Joe Orlando, now a consultant with Hackensack-based Steinreich Communications, called toll collectors "an endangered species."
"There's not going to be a need for toll collectors anyway, so this is a short-term solution," Orlando said.
Simpson also told NBC New York that whether the agency privatizes the jobs, motorists will pay the same tolls until January, when an already-scheduled 50 percent toll hike will still take effect.
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