Winter travelers could face significantly worse road conditions and further delays across the country because of a shortage of snowplow truck drivers.
“States from Washington to Pennsylvania, including Montana and Wyoming in the Rocky Mountains, are having trouble finding enough people willing” to take the jobs, The Associated Press reports. Snowplow drivers are paid comparatively low salaries, driving the trucks requires a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and the job requires working in dangerous conditions at odd hours of the day, usually early in the morning or late at night.
“We want the traveling public to understand why it could take longer this season to clear highways during winter storms,” Jon Swartz, the maintenance administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation, told the AP. “Knowing this helps motorists to plan ahead and adjust or even delay travel plans.” The AP reports that the Montana DOT said it is short 90 drivers.
Several state DOT heads told the AP that there are many reasons for the shortage: the workforce is aging, with a lack of new drivers to supplement the losses; there is a high demand for CDL drivers and diesel mechanics in other industry sectors; an incredibly low labor force participation rate, including a shortage of about 3.6 million workers across the economy with no one to fill them, as The Daily Wire previously reported; and competition with private companies, who are more fluid and able to offer incentives like bonuses and pay increases than state agencies, whose salaries are controlled by state legislators.
“Everyone’s sort of competing for the same group of workers and private companies can often offer higher salaries than the state government,” Barbara LaBoe, Washington state DOT spokeswoman, told the AP. LaBoe also noted that Washington had 151 winter operations workers quit over their refusal to comply with the state’s vaccine mandate.
A number of states are already experiencing severe winter weather. AP reported that northern Utah was hit with a snowstorm Thursday, while Colorado was expected to see heavy snow in its higher-elevated areas Friday. Parts of Nebraska and Iowa were expecting at least 15 centimeters of snowfall. Parts of New Mexico, Nevada, and northern California were also expecting winter weather.
The states are scrambling to make logistical ends meet, but their efforts come with their own particular sets of problems. Some states are willing to pay for the CDL training of new recruits, but officials say they wouldn’t be ready to work by this coming winter. Others have planned to shift mechanics and other full-time CDL employees into driving the plows, but that could cause problems if a truck needs repairs while a mechanic is out on the road. Drivers also need to be trained to load their trucks with salt, sand, and brine before they even learn a route.
The snowplow driver shortage comes amid concerns about the shortage of employment in the trucking industry, and the economy more broadly. Trucking industry leaders penned a letter to President Joe Biden in November, warning that the industry could lose 37% of its workforce because of the administration’s vaccine mandate. Labor shortages have reached across the economy, from fast food restaurants to defense contractors, with a recent analysis saying that the job market would not return to normal “anytime soon.”
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