National snowplow driver shortage may cause school delays during winter

Officials in one Boston suburb say they have experienced staffing shortages before, but this is the most significant they have seen

BOSTON – Winter is coming, and some states are not ready as a shortage of snowplow drivers may cause school delays and road closures.

Officials in one Boston suburb said they have experienced staffing shortages before, but this is the most significant they have seen. They are now offering big bucks to lure drivers in.

Chelmsford Town Manager Paul Cohen said it’s part of the COVID-19 recovery and the change in cultures that some people don’t want to work the kind of hours the job requires.

"It’s unpredictable work," Cohen said. "The hours are grueling, and it really can then affect the rest of your day if you’re an employee who has called out for an unknown, specified period of time, and you really have to pay attention when you’re out there plowing the roads."

Cohen said they usually have anywhere between 15-20 seasonal snowplow drivers on call, supplementing their staff. At this time, they have about 12 people committed this season.

Winter storms in the Boston area can make roads treacherous. If cities can’t find the necessary drivers, they won’t be able to ask the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to step up because they are experiencing a shortage of drivers.

"What’s going to happen is we just have to rely on our own crews and equipment, and it’s just going to mean slower response and more slushy roads and basically a longer commute for a lot of residents," Cohen said.

Chelmsford sees about six to eight decent snowstorms a season - with more than 4 inches of snow reported - where plows must deploy. Cohen is responsible for clearing 230 miles of roadways in his jurisdiction. 

If it’s a bad nor’easter, that could mean parents might expect at some point for schools to be delayed or even possibly canceled.

"You really don’t want to put the children out there at the bus stop or walking to school in an unsafe condition," Cohen said. "Regardless of the amount of people we have fighting the snow removal, we just got to use what we have, and the people just have to respond accordingly."

It also means an impact to first responders and the amount of time you could potentially see a response.

 "It’s a matter of road safety, and if we can’t get the crews out there to do the deicing and the snow removal, you know, it does have an effect on response," Cohen said.

Chelmsford is now stepping up with a $250 sign-on bonus as an incentive.

"Then if a person responds to 90% of the calls, we’ll give them another $250 at the end of the winter," Cohen said.

They’ve increased the hourly rate for plowers which ranges from $65 to $125 and is determined based on the vehicle. 

"Oftentimes, the town or the state has vehicles they’ll put you in. But what we just need are people willing to come out on short notice and work for an unspecified period to do the snow and ice removal," Cohen said.

If you are interested in becoming a snowplow driver, the best thing to do is contact your local public works or state transportation departments.