A shortage of snowplow operations is forcing the state to shift workers from the central part of Nebraska to the Panhandle to handle the blizzard there. (Courtesy Nebraska Department of Transportation)
LINCOLN — Due to a shortage of snowplow drivers, the state is shifting workers from central Nebraska to the Panhandle to deal with an expected blizzard there this week.
John Selmer, director of the Nebraska Department of Transporation, told a group of state lawmakers Tuesday that his agency is short about 250 workers who are licensed to drive snowplows.
Because of that, the NDOT is moving snowblower trucks and drivers to the Panhandle region, where blizzard conditions are expected. Some will stay overnight in that area, where snow and high winds are expected into Thursday.
“Several” blowers, with crews of three each, began moving west Tuesday morning, an NDOT spokeswoman said.
‘Fortunate’ only part of state affected
Selmer, in comments to a reporter later, said the state is “fortunate” that this storm is only hitting the western portion of the state,and not the entire state. That allows crews in unaffected areas to be moved.
“That’s a storm we can handle,” he said.
Several state agencies have struggled to fill jobs amid rising pay for private jobs, and with Nebraska’s low unemployment rate, which was 2.4% in October.
Earlier this fall, the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, the union that represents state employees and bargains for their wages, issued a warning that state salaries were “falling behind” as inflation hovered around 9%.
259 job vacancies in September
In September, NDOT reported having 259 vacancies in jobs that involve plowing snow. To fill job vacancies, the agency began offering $4,000 bonuses for diesel mechanics who are hired.
Selmer said Tuesday that some office staff who possess a commercial drivers license will be pressed into duty for the Panhandle blizzard, along with the workers transferred in.
“Any warm body I can get out there” is how he described it during an annual report to the Legislature’s Appropriations and Transportation and Telecommunications Committees.
State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, who sits on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, asked Selmer if the state should be budgeting more money for salaries to address the shortage.
Selmer said that pay is part of the issue,but that salaries are negotiated by the state and the NAPE.
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