MoDOT: Pay is to blame for lack of workers to clear winter roads

Regional News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s going to take a lot longer to clear snow off Missouri roads this winter and the Missouri Department of Transportation said it’s nobody’s fault but our own.

MoDOT said they need 200 to 300 seasonal workers to help and clear winter weather but this year, the director of the department said they are nowhere near that. Neighboring states like Kansas and Illinois are paying $5 to $10 more per hour than Missouri.

“We’re losing some of our very talented engineers for $20,000 and $30,000 more per year than they make here at MoDOT,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said Monday. “We’re well over probably $3 an hour off-market for what is being paid by the private sector by municipalities around the state.”

The department is on track to lose 800 employees this year McKenna said in an interview Monday. Normally, he said healthy turnover MoDOT is about 250 workers a year.

“For the last seven straight months, we’ve lost over 70 people a month and over the last four months it’s been over 80,” McKenna said. “This has been a problem for many years, and we just haven’t gotten the job done and addressed it and frankly the issue is we’re not competitive in the market with the skills of our labor force.”

Although the federal infrastructure bill that President Biden signed Monday is bringing more than $7 billion to the state for roads and bridges, with low-paying wages, McKenna said he’s concerned more might leave MoDOT.

“Everyone knows there’s a lot more work coming and there’s a high demand for knowledge, skill, and ability for infrastructure work,” McKenna said.

After some parts of the state saw snow flurries Friday, MoDOT is warning drivers, patience is going to be key this winter.

“We’re several hundred people below when we look at planning for winter,” McKenna said.

In total, MoDOT has roughly 1,500 pieces of equipment, McKenna said, and he believes the department has enough people to staff all equipment which takes around 3,400 employees. He said the department is limited on overtime but it’s not because of money.

“With the limitation of people we can’t necessarily safely have people doing things like plowing in inclement weather much beyond that 12-hour window,” McKenna said. “There’s only so much capacity for overtime.”

Normally the department has a few hundred seasonal workers to help with snow and ice removal, but this year it has been a struggle. McKenna said the starting wage for a MoDOT driver is $14.75.

“We actually advertised that in Kansas City and got lampooned on social media as being almost completely out of touch with reality,” McKenna said.

Over in Kansas, the state’s transportation department is advertising seasonal truck drivers for $25 an hour. In Illinois, it’s $20.55 to work for IDOT.

MoDOT is aware of the wage gap but says their hands are tied when it comes to giving employees a pay raise.

“The legislature has budgetary appropriation authority,” McKenna said. “I think the commission [Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission] is concerned that our attempts in the last several years have been received and fully funded, but some of this is self-inflicted over the years.”

McKenna said in the last five years, the department has lost nearly 60% of its employees. Currently, the department has 5,000 employees but is fully staffed at 5,600.

“We know it’s going to take us longer to do our job this winter and if there are severe conditions, we are going to make sure we are communicating that to the public,” McKenna said. “we know there’s going to be some frustration, we anticipate that, but know that we are working throughout the duration until we get the job done.”

Even with a lack of snowplow and salt truck drivers this year, policies for clearing the roads haven’t changed. Interstates and highways will still be the priority and will be cleared off first.

MoDOT applicant must be 18 years old and have a CDL. McKenna said if an applicant doesn’t have his or her license, MoDOT will offer training to help.

Visit MoDOT.org for information on job openings.

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