The threat of Omaha’s first potential winter weather of the season Friday was not the only storm that the city’s understaffed Street Maintenance Division struggled with.
With 49 job openings in street maintenance, employees from other divisions of the Public Works Department, including sewer maintenance and construction, were tapped to help fill in the gaps for snow prep and removal.
The shortage is a problem seen across the country, Public Works Director Bob Stubbe said.
When it comes to snowplow drivers in particular, cities and states across the U.S. are experiencing worker shortages, with some states still needing to hire hundreds of drivers, according to the Associated Press.
Employers are looking for workers “and aren’t able to find them,” Stubbe said.
The onboarding process also complicates things a bit, Stubbe said.
Because the positions are entry level, new employees have to go through a training process and are required to carry a commercial driver’s license to operate the trucks. The city provides and pays for a CDL training program through Metropolitan Community College for new hires.
In its search for workers, the city has turned to a variety of recruitment tools. Partnerships with Heartland Workforce Solutions and Project Reset have spurred job fairs and a mentorship program.
And Omaha Public Schools career counselors are asked to share the job descriptions with graduating seniors interested in CDL positions.
The Omaha City Council on Tuesday also moved to boost recruitment and retention by approving a $3.60 per hour increase for shift differential pay for all street maintenance employees and Public Works employees on winter shifts.
Shift differential pay is an extra bump in pay usually enacted for working outside of normal business hours.
Councilman Vinny Palermo advocated for an additional $1.40 an hour for street maintenance employees, which would have brought the differential pay to $5 an hour.
“Not every department is 49 people short, and not every department is out there plowing the snow, and just before the snow, filling your potholes,” Palermo said. “We have a desperate need in this department to try to retain people.”
Palermo’s proposed amendment, which required support from five council members, failed to pass.
The city has made progress in recruitment. The 49 current openings are down from 66 two weeks before.
Meanwhile, the city’s more than 130 plow drivers began preparations for Friday’s weather on Wednesday by treating roads with brine.
If help is needed, contractors are available to assist with snow removal, Stubbe said. The city typically hires contractors when more than 2 inches of snow are in the forecast.