As frustrating as the last year has been, as an industry we have persevered. Thankfully, we were deemed an essential service, which allowed us to meet our obligations to our clients and our employees. Unfortunately, none of this has put the prevailing labor issue to rest.
I’ve discussed the labor issue with a number of my snow and ice industry contemporaries and I’ve devoted a lot of thought to it, as well. The common denominator everyone keeps coming to is that, in the end, the solution to our labor issues resides in ourselves.
I know many of you have communicated with your state legislatures to educate them on the need to ease restrictions and reduce federal and state unemployment compensation. This is a good first step in addressing a highly volatile issue. However, it may feel like your thoughts and views have fallen on deaf ears at your state capitols. Don’t despair. You must continue to communicate with your elected representatives. If you maintain the message’s volume, then you will eventually be heard. Remember, persistence pays off because the squeaky wheel eventually gets oiled.
As a business owner, it is your responsibility to fight for your labor pool. Just as you fought during the early days of the pandemic to maintain an operational status and keep your team employed, you must now divert those energies toward a new initiative of putting people back to work.
Outline the facts for those in government, mainly that you have ample opportunities for those seeking employment and they are good paying jobs. According to a recent research project Snow Magazine conducted with sister publication Lawn & Landscape Magazine, more than half of snow and ice managers (53%) indicated they compensate their hourly employees at a rate that exceeds $15 per hour. CLICK HERE to check out more findings from that exclusive research.
Another truth to communicate is the risk inherent to your company’s health because it has become more and more difficult to fulfill contractual obligations without the appropriate number of bodies in the field completing the work. Remind your representatives that small business are the backbone to this nation’s great economy. And if they weaken, then it risks the stability of our economic foundation.
Lastly, paint them a picture of this very real winter scenario. Imagine an above-average snow and ice event that is then followed up by an equally intense winter storm – very similar to what we saw on the East Coast in the second half of 2020-21. However, due to a lack of an available workforce in this scenario there aren’t enough credible professional snow and ice management contractors to tend to all of the commercial, retail and medical properties. So, as a result, those property owners and managers contract with less-qualified, less-experienced plow-and-ride outfits who maybe don’t show because they’re not equipped for such an intense or prolonged winter event. Or, they don’t abide by the Industry Standards and instead leave slip-and-fall conditions in their wake, placing pedestrian traffic at risk and increasing the chances of a costly lawsuit. And as the first domino slams into the one in front of it, this scenario concludes with commerce coming to a screeching halt and a lot of finger pointing with everyone looking to assign blame to someone other than themselves.
Now, naysayers may say this an overly bleak scenario or it’s just fearmongering on my part to make a point. But we know all too well how thin the the ice is that separates hyperbole and reality.
However, I remain hopeful because I’ve witnessed what we can do as an industry. I’ve seen firsthand the contractor community come together to lobby for legislative change in their respective states. As a result, we’ve successfully changed the laws in three states to make business conditions more favorable for snow and ice professionals, and legislation is pending in a number of other statehouses.
Therefore, I’m confident we can come together as an industry on the labor issue and demand the measures necessary for real change. So, are you willing to put in the work to have a positive impact on your industry? Who out there is with me?
Kevin Gilbride is Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.