Countries have difficulty hiring snow removal drivers as winter weather sweeps through | WJMN

Helena, Mont. (AP) – Many U.S. drivers could find themselves stranded on snowy highways or have their trips delayed this winter due to a lack of drivers driving on snowfields — a reality that could strike. arrived home on Friday as winter storms began to snow from Intermountain West to the Upper Great Lakes.

States from Washington to Pennsylvania, including Montana and Wyoming in the Rocky Mountains, are having a hard time finding enough people willing to take the relatively low-paying jobs that require a Commercial Driver’s License and often have to work on odd hours in hazardous conditions.

“We want the public to understand why this season can take longer to clear highways during storms,” said Jon Swartz, maintenance manager for the Montana Department of Transportation, which has about 90 drivers. winter storm. “Knowing this enables drivers to plan ahead and adjust or even delay travel plans.”

Labor shortages and lingering concerns about the pandemic have left employers scrambling to find enough school bus driver, waiter, chef and even teachers. The shortfall comes as the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week lowest level in 52 years and some are looking for a Better work-life balance.

Some states are either already feeling the crisis, or it may soon be: Heavy snow is forecast over the coming days in large areas of the country, including Utah and Colorado, where heavy snow is forecast. more than a foot at higher altitudes. More than half a foot may decrease in parts of Nebraska and Iowa. Parts of Nevada and New Mexico Also expect winter storms.

The state’s transportation departments say there are several reasons for the snowmobile driver shortage: record low unemployment, an aging workforce and rising demand for diesel mechanics and CDL drivers in other industries. Private companies can also be more nimble – raising wages and rewarding drivers – than state agencies, which often require regulatory approval to change wages.

“Everyone is competing for the same group of workers, and private companies can often offer higher wages than the state government,” said Barbara LaBoe, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation. .

Along with the competitive market, LaBoe said Washington also lost 151 winter active workers who were reluctant to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine regulation.

One of the main competitors for states seeking Commercial Driver’s License workers are private trucking companies that have raised driver wages, in some cases several times in the past year. This year, to fill their own shortfall and meet the growing need to transport goods and clear the supply chain. bottlenecks.

The American Trucking Association estimates there will be a record shortfall of just over 80,000 drivers this year, and that doesn’t include driver shortages for school buses, public transit or scooters. snow.

The ATA said the shortfall has multiple origins, including more drivers nearing retirement age, the pandemic causing some to leave the industry, and training schools producing fewer new drivers in 2020. Others have may leave the industry because they don’t like being away from home. The growing number of states legalizing marijuana has resulted in many drivers failing to pass drug tests, the ATA said.

Officials say some states are willing to hire snowmobilers and pay for their CDL training, but it’s unlikely those hires will be ready to work this winter.

Some snowmobile drivers work year-round on highway maintenance jobs, while seasonal workers are hired to work additional shifts in the winter.

Shortages are prompting states to plan to switch mechanics and other full-time employees with Commercial Driver’s Licenses to plows, which could pose a problem if the plow needs maintenance. and the mechanic can’t drive.

Wyoming has priorities for which roads should be plowed first and how many hours per day the plow will operate on each road. Interstate 80, the main east-west corridor through the southern portion of the state, can be plowed around the clock while plow stops on other roads, such as Interstates 90 and 25 , in the middle of the night at 4 am. Those guidelines could be more effective than this, said Luke Reiner, director of Wyoming’s Department of Transportation.

In Washington, LaBoe said some roads and mountain passes will be closed for longer than usual during and after major storms and some roads may not receive the same service.

Short or isolated storms won’t pose a problem in most states, in part because parts can move drivers and equipment around based on weather forecasts.

“If we have a series of hurricanes in a few days, or if it hits the entire state at once, (the shortfall) will become more obvious because we don’t have a deep bench,” said LaBoe. speak.

Washington is still short of about 150 full-time and seasonal workers, but things have improved since October when it was short of 300 workers.

Even if states could hire drivers with commercial licenses, they would still have to train them to ride sleds and load trucks with salt and sand before learning the route.

“When you’re plowing the road, you need to know where the abutment is and where the expansion joints are so you don’t hook it with the plow,” says LaBoe.

Pennsylvania is short of 270 permanent sites and 560 temporary locations, but the Department of Transportation says that doesn’t mean the roads will be dangerous this winter.

“Our goal is to keep the roads safe and passable rather than completely ice and snow-free,” said Alexis Campbell, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The roads will be cleared when the snow stops, she said.

Travel convenience is important to businesses. Capitol Courier has a contract to deliver electronic replacement parts from their warehouse in Helena, Montana, to about 30 businesses across the state as soon as they call.

“Roads are so important to what we do,” said Shawn White Wolf, co-curator of the Capitol Courier.

Rick Nelson, winter maintenance technical service program manager for the American Association of Highways and Transportation Officials, said Snowplow drivers are dedicated to their job and understand their job well. They are vital to the safety of the public and emergency responders.

However, he understands that convincing newcomers to “get out there under the worst conditions” can be difficult.

The shortfall means states will shift resources when they can and keep roads clear during times of peak demand, Nelson said while “you try to recruit, get out there and beat the bushes and convince people that jumping into a plow in the middle of the night over Christmas is a good career choice. ”

https://www.upmatters.com/news/national/states-struggling-to-hire-snowplow-drivers-as-winter-weather-sweeps-in/ Countries have difficulty hiring snow removal drivers as winter weather sweeps through | WJMN

Emma Bowman

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