In Eastern Oregon, a labor shortage is making it harder to remove snow and ice from state highways

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Nov. 22, 2022 11:05 p.m.
Snow plows go down busy Portland roads after the winter storm.

File photo from Dec. 14, 2016. A labor shortage in East Oregon means fewer snow plows helping clear roads. The Oregon Department of Transportation notes that a longer process to obtain a CDL as being one of the challenges for recruitment.

John Rosman / OPB

The Oregon Department of Transportation has almost 40 vacancies for seasonal and permanent positions on its road maintenance team in Eastern Oregon. Most of these open positions are for snow plow drivers in charge of clearing roads and highways.

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“It’s been a struggle,” said Rich Lani, a regional district manager for ODOT.

The region, which stretches east from Morrow to Grant and Wheeler Counties, is currently facing a 20% vacancy rate that is creating a challenge with providing 24/7 road coverage.

“We’re trying to be creative with shifts and we have some days where we don’t have coverage in the early hours of the morning,” Lani said.

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One reason for the driver shortage, according to ODOT, is new licensing requirements made by the federal government which has resulted in longer wait times to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

ODOT also said they pay for new snow plow drivers to complete their training to get a CDL but many choose to leave the agency for new jobs after the six-month snow plow season is over.

“They’re highly employable now,” Lani said. “They have this Class A CDL in their pocket and a lot of private industry will lure them away, pay them more money and offer year-round employment.”

Lani thinks Oregon motorists can help ODOT by being extra vigilant to avoid accidents, especially when driving on snowy roads.

When accidents occur during bad weather, snow plow drivers are often sent to the scene to help clear lanes and debris which can result in fewer personnel to clear snow in other areas.

“It stretches us thinner,” he said. “Take time, be prepared and drive to the condition of the road.”

Rich Lani joined Think Out Loud to discuss the labor shortage of snow plow drivers in Eastern Oregon. You can listen to the full conversation here:

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