The industry has been apathetic about reaching out to their elected officials to voice their opinions on the minimum wage issue. The majority of contractors – both snow and all responses – have not gotten involved in this seemingly political issue. Likewise, neither the majority of respondents from either group have failed to reach out to their respective state and national associations about the minimum wage issue.
Overwhelmingly, snow and ice respondents indicated they will increase the price of their services in the event the minimum wage is increased to $15 per hour. A third of snow contractors responded they would most likely absorb the increase in labor costs, however they would also consider reducing equipment expenditures and scale back on growth plans to compensate for the labor cost increase. Very few snow and ice managers (3%) indicated they would take the drastic steps of closing their businesses in response to a minimum wage increase.
In comparison, nearly three quarters of all respondents (73%) indicated they would increase prices to offset the expense of a new minimum wage, according to the data. Another third (34%) believed they would also be able to absorb the increases in labor costs. And around a quarter of all respondents believed a minimum wage increase would force them to cut back on expenditures such as new equipment and labor, as well as freeze other pay increases.
When the data is broken down and compared against snow contractor revenue, an interesting trend emerged. Those contractors earning $1 million or less in annual revenue would most likely cut back on strategic items, such as equipment purchasing and engaging in growth plans. However, those snow and ice management companies with more than a million in revenue indicated they were more apt to absorb the costs associated with the increases. However, all snow contractors, despite revenue amounts, ranked increasing service prices as the main course of action to a minimum wage increase.
More than half of snow and ice managers (53%) indicated they compensate their hourly employees at a rate that exceeds $15 per hour, according to the survey data. While nearly a quarter (23%) of snow and ice management respondents believe the minimum wage should remain unchanged at $7.25 per hour, the majority (53%) believe it should be raised by at least $3 per hour or more.
When compared against respondents performing snow and ice management, the majority of all survey respondents (54%) did not pay their hourly employees more than $15 per hour. Likewise, more than half (54%) agreed the minimum wage should be raised by at least $3 per hour, and slightly less (21%) indicated the minimum wage should remain unchanged.
On an interesting side note, the data indicates nearly half (44%) of snow contractors who already pay hourly employees $15 per hour advocated for a $5 or more per hour pay increase of the minimum wage. The greatest percent (20%) of snow professionals who did not already pay hourly employees $15 per hour indicated they believed the federal minimum wage should be increased by $3 per hour.
Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives forwarded their plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 to the U.S. Senate. Originally introduced as the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, the minimum wage hike was expected to be part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief package moving through However, to the relief of many small business owners, the American Rescue Plan passed without the mandated minimum wage increase.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. However, this does not supersede state or local wage laws that are more favorable to employees.
Proponents of raising the minimum wage argue changes are needed so incomes keep pace with the increasing cost of living. In addition, many believe a higher minimum wage will lift millions out of poverty.
However, opponents of minimum wage increases propose that escalating wages will have several negative repercussions on not only the economy, but small businesses, as well. Some of those effects include inflation, making companies less competitive, and increased unemployment.
Within the snow and ice management community, opinions abound both for and against wage increases.
“In snow and ice, I pay employees skilled trade wages," says one Indiana snow contractor who participated in a recent wage survey. "I believe [a minimum wage increase] will affect the businesses we serve. I believe several will close and several will change scope."
"Cost of living continues to go up so people need to make more to survive and provide for their families," says a New Mexico contractor who does snow and ice management in the winter months. "This is a service industry, so for a residential or commercial entity to have that convenience they will need to budget for it. We, as an industry, need to make a commitment to each other to increase pricing unilaterally."
"If minimum wage is suddenly $15 per hour the guys making $20 or $25 per hour will now want $25 to $30 per hour. That is a direct result of the wage scale being compressed," says a Buffalo snow pro who adds he already pays his hourly employees more than the minimum wage.
Another snow professional believes the ripple effect of a wage increase could be devastating. "It would force [pay] raises to those who were [employed] for a couple of years and [already] making the $15 wage, and it would force us to scale down as well as pass a price hike on to customers, which in turn loses business. There are many other unforeseen issues here that doubling minimum wage causes. The intelligent people making these decisions should be ashamed to even consider such a drastic jump all at once.”
In March, Snow Magazine teamed with sister publication Lawn & Landscape to determine not only the impact a wage increase would have on green and snow industry business, but also to gauge the attitudes contractors have toward mandated salary hikes. Together, we compiled a brief survey via the online portal SurveyMonkey that addressed some topics in this complex issue. This survey was sent to the readers of both Snow Magazine and Lawn & Landscape and over a three-week period generated just over 650 responses.
– Mike Zawacki is Snow Magazine editor
Beginning in late October, Winter 2020-21 was packed with several significant weather events across the United States’ Snow Belt. Impactful winter weather events lasted through Mid-March before temperatures warmed and the wintry pattern finally settled down. Overall, the 2020-21 Winter season featured near-to-above-normal temperatures across much of the US. December and January were very mild, but February featured well below normal temperatures for the midsection of the country. Precipitation was near to slightly below normal for much of the country. Areas that saw above-normal precipitation were the Pacific Northwest and the coastal southeastern regions. Here’s a recap and analysis of the most significant snow and ice events from the past winter.
Southern Plains Ice Storm
An early season winter storm brought heavy snowfall to Colorado, New Mexico, and western Texas from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28, 2020, but much worse were impacts from heavy freezing rain in Oklahoma. An extremely rare freezing rain and sleet event brought up to 1.5-2 inches of ice to central Oklahoma, causing widespread destruction. Extreme tree and power line damage aided in over 340,000 power outages. National Weather Service offices in Norman and Tulsa issued their first-ever ice storm warnings in October, and a State of Emergency was declared for 47 counties. The storm is estimated to have caused over $125 million in damage.
[Image: Ice Storm Reports Oct 2020, source: National Weather Service]
Late November Lake Effect Snow
A strong, slow-moving low-pressure system brought accumulating snowfall to the Ohio Valley on Nov. 30, 2020. Over the next two days, the system stalled over Lake Ontario and a major lake effect snow event took hold. Lake effect snowfall persisted through Dec. 1st and 2nd, bringing accumulations of up to two feet in northeastern Ohio. Widespread snowfall of 8 to 16 inches was observed across the lake effect belts of northern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania. On top of heavy, wet snowfall, winds gusted to 30-40 mph and caused tree and power line damage. The event is estimated to have caused at least $100 million in damage.
[Image: Late November LES, source: National Weather Service]
Early December Nor’easter
After developing along the Mid-Atlantic coast on Dec. 4, 2020, a rapidly strengthening ‘bomb cyclone’ brought significant impacts to New England on Dec. 5th and 6th. These impacts included widespread snowfall of 6 to 12 inches across northern New England and localized higher amounts to 18 inhes, hurricane-force winds, blizzard conditions, and coastal flooding. The storm caused over 280,000 power outages and an estimated $25 million in damage.
[Image: Early Dec Nor’easter, source: NOHRSC]
A second, even more powerful nor’easter impacted the Mid-Atlantic and New England states from December 15-17, 2020, bringing widespread snowfall of 8 to 18 inches to the region, with a swath of 18 to 44 inches extending from north-central Pennsylvania to southwestern Maine. This single snowfall event surpassed New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. snowfall totals from the entire previous winter season. In addition to the snowfall, coastal flooding and strong winds were also observed, along with tens of thousands of power outages. The storm is estimated to have caused over $125 million in damages.
[Image: Mid Dec Nor’easter, source: NOHRSC]
Just before Christmas, widespread blizzard conditions impacted eastern portions of the Dakotas, northeastern Nebraska, much of Minnesota, and northwestern Iowa. While snowfall was minimal for much of the area at only 2 to 5 inches, higher snowfall amounts of 8 to 12-plus inches were observed in northeastern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin. Winds gusted to 60-75 mph at times creating whiteout conditions, interstate pileups, and power outages. The blizzard and associated severe weather in the southeastern US are estimated to have caused over $340 million in damages.
[Image: Christmas Blizzard, source: National Weather Service]
An extremely powerful and damaging storm pushed ashore in the Pacific Northwest on Jan. 12, bringing heavy mountain snows and rainfall to the region. Damaging winds were observed in Washington and Oregon, and winds continued to increase in speed as they pushed east of the Rockies. Wind gusts reached 125 mph in Missoula county, Montana. As the storm pushed into the Great Plains and Upper Midwest on January 15th, widespread Blizzard Warnings were issued. Snowfall amounts in portions of Minnesota and Iowa reached 6 to 12 inches. Higher amounts of 16 to 24 inches were observed in the interior Northeast. The event caused $525 million in damages across the northern US.
[Image: Mid Jan Blizzard, source: NOHRSC]
Groundhog Day Nor’easter
A low-pressure system developed off the West Coast in late January, and brought flooding rains, heavy mountain snows (up to 127 inches at Mammoth Mountain), and damaging winds to California. Hundreds of thousands of power outages occurred as result, as well as mudslides. As February opened, the same system brought widespread 8 to 12 inches of snowfall to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, then developed into a strong nor’easter and dumped widespread 12 to 24 inches of snowfall to the Northeast, and up to 37 inches in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New York, and northern New Jersey. This was the biggest snowstorm to hit the area since 2016.
[Images GDay 1 and GDay 2, sources: NOHRSC]
February Cold Blast
The astronomical Winter season (December through February) ended with record cold throughout the month of February. A weakened Polar Jet Stream allowed for arctic air to push toward the equator through most of the month, with the contiguous U.S. seeing an average temperature that was 3.2F below the 20th century average. This placed February 2021 as the 19th coldest February on record for the nation (a 127-year period), and the coldest since 1989. Over 3,000 high- and low-temperature records were broken. Many locations saw temperatures that were 30 to 50 degrees below normal! Oklahoma City, Oklahoma broke temperature records (a low of -14 degrees!) on Feb. 16 that dated back to 1899, while Dallas saw a low of -2 that was the coldest since 1930 and second coldest temperature ever recorded in the city. Alaska also observed its coldest February since 1999. The Texas power grid suffered greatly during the record cold, with more than 4.5 million homes and businesses losing power. Rolling blackouts lasted for several days. Damages from the blackouts alone are estimated to be over $195 million, making the cold blast the costliest disaster in Texas history.
[Image: February Temp Anomaly, source: NCEI]
Mid-February Winter Storm
Amid the arctic outbreak, a winter storm brought record-breaking snowfall amounts of 9 inches to Del Rio, Texas and 11.8 inches to Little Rock, Ark. Little Rock’s snow depth reached 15 inches during the event, breaking the all-time record. Aside from snow, freezing rain (ice) accumulations of 0.25-0.50 inches impacted Texas and Louisiana. Dozens of vehicles became stranded on roadways in Alabama due to the wintry precipitation as well. The system is estimated to have caused at least $500 million in damages.
[Image: Mid Feb Winter Storm, source: NOHRSC]
Rocky Mountain Blizzard
Heavy snowfall set up in the Rocky Mountains from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Denver, Colorado from March 12-14, with widespread snowfall of 24-36 inches. Cheyenne officially measured 30.8 inches, the city’s largest two-day snowfall. Denver measured 27.1 inches, coming in at the second largest March snowfall on record, and fourth largest ever. The highest snow total from the storm was observed in Laramie Range, Wyo. at 52.5 inches. Aside from the heavy snow, wind speeds increased to 50 mph which prompted widespread blizzard warnings for the region. Western Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota also saw significant snowfall of 12 to 24 inches.
[Image: Rocky Mountain Blizzard, source: NOHRSC]
Beth Carpenter and Joseph “JT” Cooper are founders and meteorologists at Thermodynamic Solutions. They are frequent Snow Magazine contributors.