State staffing shortages include snow plow operators, has union seeking higher wages to fill ‘critical’ vacancies

By: - September 12, 2022 12:41 pm

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Could the State of Nebraska lack enough workers to plow the snow off highways this winter?

Nebraska’s public employees union thinks so and are seeking salary increases that keep up with inflation to combat shortages of highway maintenance workers and others in labor negotiations that will begin later this month.

“We’re falling behind,” said Justin Hubly, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, as inflation hovers around 9%.

259 job vacanies

A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Transportation said the agency currently has 259 vacancies in jobs that involve plowing snow.

NDOT spokeswoman Jeni Campana said the agency is “exploring various ways to continue to provide as good a service as possible” given the difficulty in hiring and retaining workers who have licenses to operate heavy trucks.

To emphasize the state’s staffing problems and the need for higher wages, union members are planning a rally on Tuesday from 5-6 p.m. on Centennial Mall, just outside the State Office Building in Lincoln.  NAPE/AFSCME Local 61 represents about 8,000 state workers. 

‘Critically short’ of staff

“The state remains critically short staffed at many agencies, and investments are needed to make sure that critical services continue uninterrupted,” said Melissa Haynes, president of the union and a social services worker.

“Our members worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, and now is the time to invest in them,” Haynes said in a press release.

Hubly cited several instances where state services have been cut back or are threatened to be reduced because of staff shortages:

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles has temporarily closed numerous locations due to staffing shortages.
  • The Nebraska Department of Transportation is short of workers to plow state highways this winter and short of diesel-truck mechanics to repair plows.
  • A large backlog of economic assistance applications is waiting to be processed at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Diesel mechanics lacking

Hubly said wages for certain job classifications, such as diesel mechanic, have fallen way behind the private market. DOR offers just under $19 an hour, but private companies are offering much more, he said.

To fill job vacancies, the DOR is offering $4,000 bonuses for diesel mechanics who are hired.

A state website indicates several job openings for highway maintenance worker, a job that requires a CDL and starts at $16.62 an hour.

Hubly said it’s been demonstrated that significant raises will fill vacancies, citing the 15% wage increases provided by the Ricketts administration for providers of health services earlier this year that led to more hiring.

The contract negotiations will be for a two-year contract.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.