Omaha wants to provide pay hikes this winter to the city snowplow drivers and shop workers who keep the plows running.
The aim: to keep more city street maintenance jobs filled and to recruit new workers to address a staffing shortage.
Public Works proposes paying street maintenance workers about $3 an hour more for shifts during the winter months, city officials say.
Every street maintenance employee who touches a plow or other equipment would get the pay increase. The additional seasonal pay requires City Council approval.
Austin Rowser, the city’s street maintenance engineer, said the irregular hours and demanding work contribute to people leaving street maintenance. He suggested the pay bump and secured buy-in from the mayor and the workers’ union.
The increase would represent a 12% to 18% pay bump for people earning $18 to $25 an hour, city and union leaders say.
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Winter shifts have long been a sticking point for city street maintenance workers seeking better pay and working conditions.
Those shifts run from 3:30 a.m. to noon or noon to 8:30 p.m. all winter long, from Thanksgiving weekend through mid-March.
When a lot of snow falls, as it did in 2018-19, street maintenance employees work mandatory overtime, often 12-hour shifts, with one shift on and one shift off, said Tony Burkhalter, president of Local 251, the largest city union.
Part of the reason people are working such long hours is that Public Works has had a hard time hiring and retaining staff in street maintenance, Burkhalter said. This has been the case for several years, council member Vinny Palermo has said.
The city had 133 union employees in street maintenance last pay period. It has hired eight new employees since then, reaching 141, Public Works officials said, and the city interviewed more candidates on Monday. Union leaders say that’s still short of the 159 people the City Council approved.
Those workers operate the city’s fleet of more than 100 trucks and plows.
The seasonal pay proposal might help Public Works to retain workers. One of the city’s challenges is competing with other governments and private firms that pay more for people with commercial driver’s licenses, said Rowser.
City leaders are waiting to learn the findings of a study of how much Omaha pays all categories of city employees and how that compares to other cities.
That study is expected to be complete in early 2020, said Carrie Murphy, spokeswoman for Mayor Jean Stothert.
Burkhalter said he expects the study to recommend raises for city employees in street maintenance, as well as other areas.