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Snowplow drivers wanted in Mass. this winter; some towns offering up to $155 per hour

Steven Senne/AP/FILE

Got a backhoe and a hankering to plow Worcester streets this winter? You could rake in $145 an hour, a rate that’ll spike by $10 if the snow’s cleared before Dec. 1 or after April 1.

That’s according to official documents posted to the city website regarding seasonal snowplow contractors.

And it’s not just Worcester digging deep this winter. The situation’s similar in Lowell, where officials said on the city website that they’re “seeking plowing contractors for the FY21-FY22 season” and seeking “all sizes of equipment including pickup trucks, bobcats, 6-wheelers, and 10 wheelers.”

And the hourly rates aren’t bad.

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“Rates begin at $80/hr and up to $155/hr,” the Lowell site said. “New this year, the City is offering an incentive rate, which adds $5 to published rates, if all deadlines required through the application process are completed by November 5, 2021 and inspection of vehicle completed by November 12, 2021.”

Per the Worcester paperwork, that city’s $155 hourly rate for backhoe drivers would kick in if they plow before Dec. 1 or on or after April 1, as an “extended season rate.” In between, the documents show, the hourly rate for drivers using their own backhoes will be the lower $145 figure.

And if you’ve got a reversible plow to go with your backhoe, records show, then the in-season hourly rate is $150 in Worcester, with the extended season rate spiking to $160.

Last winter, things got a little dicey on state roads in terms of snow removal.

In December 2020, then-state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters that a shortage of plow drivers due to COVID-19 meant that “some major roads may have only one lane open for travel” during the heaviest periods of snowfall that were expected during an impending storm, Boston.com reported at the time.

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Even as they up wages in hopes of attracting willing plowers, Massachusetts towns are feeling anxious about the winter. Jim Stanford, North Andover’s director of public works, said this year’s hiring challenges are probably the worst he’s seen in more than 30 years of working in the field.

He ties the issue to the truck driver shortage sweeping the nation, because both industries require workers licensed to drive commercial vehicles. Municipalities must compete with private developments like supermarkets and delivery companies for qualified workers.

It doesn’t help, he said, that gas prices and insurance requirements have gone up. North Andover has adjusted its pay rates to accommodate rising fuel prices, Stanford said, but it’s not enough.

Many cities and towns get their snowplow drivers through landscapers or other general contractors rather than hiring individually, and the combination of these factors has caused North Andover to lose contractors over the past year.

“While they have the equipment, they’re struggling to get drivers to fill the need,” Stanford said. “So they can’t commit to the town, because they’re not getting commitments.”

Come winter, town employees will likely have to work more hours clearing the roads themselves. This means it may take longer to get roads open, leading to potential school delays.

“It’s going to take us too long to get all the routes, so we’ll have to let the superintendents know that we’re not ready for them to open,” Stanford said. “That’s really where the biggest fear comes from, from our perspective.”

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In the neighboring town of Andover, Deputy Director of Public Works Carlos Jaquez said the industry as a whole has seen a decrease in interest in snowplow operators over the past four or five years.

Fewer and fewer small businesses that serve as landscapers during the summer and snowplow operators during the winter have been popping up, he said. And some routes that a single operator had handled for the past 25 years, for example, were left to no successor when they retired because nobody had wanted to pick up the work.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s been on a downward trend of plower availability,” Jaquez. “We expect that trend to continue this year and perhaps even get worse.”

Hiring season usually begins in September, but at this point in the year, Andover has not yet seen all of its operators return. With long hours and hazardous weather conditions, Jaquez said he would not be surprised if this year’s labor movement exacerbates the shortage.

Andover, like other municipalities, has been experimenting with pay incentives, offering 10-percent bonuses at the end of the year for contractors that come in to work every storm event. If all fails, Jaquez said, the town is capable of handling most storms on its own — but it will be risky.

“The larger the storm, and the intense the storm, the more we are going to struggle to keep the roads open, or at least most of the roads open,” he said. “So depending on what the weather is going to throw at us and how we respond to it, that’s really the challenge.”

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On the South Shore, Scituate hasn’t been seeing as many plow driver applications this year as it’s used to. To try and meet the challenge, workers are heading out in tanker trucks and pretreating roadways with a salt brine solution, according to Public Works Director Kevin Cafferty.

“We’re looking for more innovative ways to attack snowstorms,” he said. “But if we have to attack the roads with less plow drivers, it’ll just take a lot longer and people have to be patient.”

This is a breaking story that’ll be updated when more information becomes available.




Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Angela Yang can be reached at angela.yang@globe.com.