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*** UPDATED x1 *** A recipe for disaster?

Thursday, Jan 30, 2014

* From Aviva Bowen at the IFT…

As the Chicago area forecast shows several inches of snow and more bitter cold headed our way this weekend, I wanted to put this info back at the top of your inbox. These workers deal with dangerous conditions to keep us safe and will be putting in even more hours in the days ahead while unwisely understaffed.

* From a recent press release…

The recent winter storms that shut down roads in Illinois exposed a serious potential public safety and financial problem in Cook County. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) doesn’t have enough mechanics to keep snow plows running, so they had to call in 30 mechanics from the National Guard just to keep the fleet on the road recently.

“We can’t call in the military every time we have a snow storm,” said Tom Kosowski, President of the Illinois Federation of Public Employees (IFPE), IFT Local 4408. “We don’t have enough mechanics and shopkeepers to do the job. If we can’t keep plows running to clear the roads, they won’t be safe for anyone.”

Public employees have been on the front lines statewide, often working 21-hour days to keep up with recent storms while severely short-handed. Instead of hiring more IDOT workers, the state calls in military support, spends additional money to hire private companies, uses employees who aren’t trained mechanics, and forces their own mechanics to work large amounts of overtime.

These unqualified workers without the appropriate experience on state vehicles create a potential danger to motorists and more cost to taxpayers.

A $3-million study conducted for the state showed that maintaining the state’s vehicles in house is more efficient and saves taxpayer dollars. Maximus Fleet Management Consulting recommended that IDOT hire more mechanics to work on the fleet and more storekeepers to handle inventory.

“Hiring more IDOT mechanics will help keep people safe and save the state more money,” said Matt Emigholz, Vice President of Local 4408. “We don’t understand why IDOT won’t follow the advice they paid to receive.”

At the Rodenburg facility in Schaumburg alone, 15 of 22 plows are not working at this time. If the garages were properly staffed, the right amount of inventory would be stocked at the most efficient cost and mechanics could perform preventative maintenance to keep the fleet running longer.

That study referenced above is here on page 46.

*** UPDATE *** From IDOT…

Hello Rich,

In response your post today:

IDOT crews work diligently each and every day to ensure the safety of the motoring public.

During the height of the recent polar vortex, IDOT had 1,755 trucks assigned to snow duty across the state, and nearly 3,700 full- and part-time employees available to help ensure roads were clear and passable.

With the unprecedented statewide winter storm conditions of Jan. 4-8 and subsequent regional snowfall and bitter temperatures, IDOT crews were out working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. These historic conditions did strain our vehicles, but at no point did we have an insufficient number to keep the roads cleared and salted. In District 1 (Cook County area), there were 440 trucks to cover 370 routes.

Safety is our number one priority and IDOT has consistently kept the necessary number of trucks on the road. That will continue through the winter.

No mechanics were approved to work 21 hours and the claim that IDOT lacks an adequate number of mechanics is absolutely false. And any outside mechanics we use are retained year-round and are highly-experienced and highly-qualified.

These weather conditions have not been experienced in over 20 years so utilizing National Guard personnel is not a common occurrence.

Thank you,
Jae Miller
Chief Communication Officer - IDOT

- Posted by Rich Miller        


39 Comments
  1. - phocion - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:43 pm:

    IDOT staffing has been decimated. It started with Blagojevich, and continues under Quinn. The Secretary is doing a fine job, but the legislature has to fund enough to keep our roads and bridges safe. And that means more staff!


  2. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:43 pm:

    This is what government is supposed to do. It’s going to snow and get cold here. Get it done.


  3. - Ghost - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:45 pm:

    So hire full time people for the few days anyway we have snow? Seems like contracting it out and using military would be a lot cheaper on an as needed basis for the few days it’s needed.


  4. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:46 pm:

    We’re playing with fire in a lot of additional areas beyond simply snowplows. Disability services, Child and Family Services, various oversight functions, the list could go on forever.

    We may not get the snowplows and maintenance fully staffed before Spring starts in March.

    But we may wish to pay more attention to insourcing and the ability to save money by having government hire people to do the jobs government is supposed to do, rather than having government hire outside companies and “friends” of influential patrons.

    Then, once our finances are in order and we have started getting things back to a better place, we can actually hire all the maintenance and support staff we need.


  5. - countyline - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:49 pm:

    So the only options are in-house staff or the National Guard ? Are there not enough diesel repair shops, welders, etc available in the entire city and suburbs to repair a few extra trucks ? I don’t know why I’m surprised, we are talking about Illinois government here…


  6. - Leave a Light on George - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:51 pm:

    No doubt they are short handed but if my experience with IDOT and CMS state garages is typical they are hardly examples of efficiency.

    This is not a knock on individual employee’s but rather the system.


  7. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:53 pm:

    Actually, @Ghost, that’s an interesting point.

    Isn’t this what organizations do during “crisis” periods? Illinois is experiencing one of the most severe winters on record. It seems logical to need more hands on deck during a “crisis” period than during a “normal” period.

    Is this particular case an example of the old Rahm Emanuel mantra, “never let a good crisis go to waste”?


  8. - OneMan - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:57 pm:

    If the complaint is they can deal with the heavier use than it would seem some sort of contracting might not be a bad idea vs having folks not as utilized most of the year.

    Lots of places (like Aurora) use private contractors to help with snow removal. It would seem to make sense to have some contracts with private garages when the issues exist because you are using your hardware much more than average.


  9. - OneMan - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:58 pm:

    For example
    == At the Rodenburg facility in Schaumburg alone, 15 of 22 plows are not working at this time. ==

    That seems to scream take them to a different shop…


  10. - Mason born - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 3:59 pm:

    Ghost has a great point. How often do the trucks need repaired in the spring and summer. It would seem to be logical to base staffing off the annual average and procure contracts with a few shops to handle excessive demand. Although maybe in IL we would spend less having workers idle 3/4th of the year then contracting with the local pol’s brother for repairs.


  11. - Bulbous1 - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:01 pm:

    Same problem exists within the State Police. Dispatcher numbers have dwindled down to disastrous levels. Weeks without a day off…forced overtime. The “lifeline” to officers on the road is wearing quite thin.


  12. - Dave Victor - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:08 pm:

    What do they do in the Summer?


  13. - Endangered Moderate Species - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:09 pm:

    Very few companies maintain their own fleets today. I am surprised IDOT doesn’t have a contract with a fleet maintenance company, maybe they do.

    Fleet maintenance companies are more cost effective than having a mechanic or two stationed at each IDOT garage throughout the State.

    Ryder is one example of a fleet maintenance company with locations throughout the State. They provide maintenance for many of the truck fleets on the highway.

    This sounds like a union argument to beef up their numbers, but maybe I’m missing something.


  14. - Lincoln Parker - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:14 pm:

    ===A $3-million study conducted for the state showed that maintaining the state’s vehicles in house is more efficient and saves taxpayer dollars. Maximus Fleet Management Consulting recommended that IDOT hire more mechanics to work on the fleet and more storekeepers to handle inventory.====

    That study cost $3mm? I know consultants aren’t cheap, but that seems like a lot.


  15. - Endangered Moderate Species - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:21 pm:

    ===$3-million study ===

    They could have hired 30 good mechanics for $3M.


  16. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:33 pm:

    This argument has been going on for 35 years, if not longer. The same trucks that plow snow are detailed to highway maintenance in the summer-it’s not like the crews and mechanics go away in March. The need is year-round.
    On the other hand, If IDOT has been whacked like the rest of State Government, staffing is probably a concern.
    One of the issues Maximus pointed out IIRC was too much OT due to short staffing.

    You privatizors should recognize that the State would not have Ryder’s buying power (less than 10% of the fleet) and wouldn’t get the service priority a Ryder gets unless they paid for it, snow or not.

    Inquiring minds should look into District 1 Maintenance authorized v. filled head count over the past ten years.


  17. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:35 pm:

    Was the $3-million spent before, during, and/or after the pols’ “advisory boards” chimed in?

    Is it me, or was there once a time when people who had been hired to do a job, could actually do it and thus carried some credibility pertaining to their opinions.

    Gee. I wonder what went wrong.


  18. - The KQ - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:35 pm:

    Are plows used during construction season at all (with the plow blade removed)? Also I assume mechanics are needed during the summer in order to help maintain the mowing operation that keeps the weeds down in the medians and right-of-ways.

    One simple (I know, nothing is simple) idea is to bid out extra mechanical help on an “as needed, if needed” basis. Once the contract is in place, IDOT can order the work it needs off of the master contract for the agreed upon price.


  19. - Study - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:37 pm:

    These trucks are used year round. The private sector consultant study said that in house mechanics that can perform
    Preventative maintenance year round is
    More cost efficient. The reason 15 trucks aren’t running is there isn’t staff to fix them. If there were enough mechanics year round, there would be no backlog.


  20. - Anon - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:46 pm:

    Quinn gets no credit anyway for having the fewest state workers per capita of any state. Republicans still insist he’s a Big Spender.


  21. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 4:56 pm:

    The problem is the union contracts, or at least the way they’ve been interpreted and implemented. The best idea would of course be to have a baseline of in-house staff and contract out for the surges. But the union contract, as interpreted by the arbitrator, gives the union veto power over contracting out. Which they exercise, to try to force more hiring. But there isn’t the money for carrying a full complement of full-time staff to deal with the occasional surge. So we’re stuck in the snow bank, literally and figuratively.


  22. - Excessively Rabid - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 5:02 pm:

    Maybe they could hire Ken Sain to figure it out.


  23. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 5:08 pm:

    Well, just wait until Rauner gets in Anonymous 4:56. He’ll probably assemble an “outside” board that determines all those union folks “no longer have the required skills” to do their jobs.

    He’ll then work with Mr. Kirk (and probably Mr. Durbin) to get more visas and then the unions’ efforts to “help” their membership will be just as comical as our efforts to hang onto our jobs in the private sector over the last decade have been.

    Personally, I’d probably try harder to negotiate with the Governor to help ensure appropriate staffing levels throughout the year. (Things become extremely “surreal” when you get to the “no longer have the skills” conversation and I’d imagine it’d be more so when you’re dealing with using and maintaining equipment that probably hasn’t change in a while.)


  24. - Former Merit Comp Slave - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 5:31 pm:

    DOT currently hires “snowbirds” to run the plows during snow storms. These are temp employees only used as needed. Why can’t they do the same with mechanics? But having recently retired with 29 years of state service, I can attest to the fact that staffing levels over the past 10 years have decreased to a dangerous level in many departments.


  25. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 5:38 pm:

    === But the union contract, as interpreted by the arbitrator, gives the union veto power over contracting out. Which they exercise, to try to force more hiring. ===

    And the twilight zone that is Illinois politics comes full circle once again.

    Sigh.


  26. - Study - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 5:38 pm:

    Anon 4;56, that’s not true about the union contract preventing contracting out. Again, the experts who study fleet maintenance say IDOT should use more in house mechanics to keep the fleet up year round and do preventative maintenance to get more life out of vehicles. The high overtime and high contracting cost is costing more. The union in question actually made concessions to make it 25% less expensive for IDOT to hire new mechanics.


  27. - Truthteller - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 7:07 pm:

    Easy answers- cut taxes, reduce worker comp benefits, scrub the Medicaid rolls- that will solve all problems and make Illinois a great place to live. Just ask the IPI


  28. - No Sense . - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 8:59 pm:

    They need to replace the mechanics that leave to keep the equipment working. And they should hire enough full time workers not temp that they take care of equipment that they drive full time people will know the roads and equipment better because they would be around it.Contracting out
    does not safe money. Experience & skill is what works.


  29. - Timmeh - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 9:07 pm:

    Well. Jae Miller is saying something different than an Office of the Auditor General study. What is the real answer then?


  30. - Oneman - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 9:08 pm:

    Not doubting that they are understaffed, but think staffing to the level you need when you have really, really unique conditions is a bit daft.


  31. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 9:18 pm:

    Thanks, Oneman. That was the sentence I left out of my post.


  32. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 30, 14 @ 9:41 pm:

    So the calling in the military “every time we have a snowstorm” statement was probably a bit of an exaggeration that might have been an attempt to increase resource allocation across the board? ;)


  33. - foster brooks - Friday, Jan 31, 14 @ 1:32 am:

    Cms maintains the fleet of idot snow plows not idot.


  34. - DuPage - Friday, Jan 31, 14 @ 2:06 am:

    @4:35, These outside contractors get very backed up during extreme weather. Also, these are “low bid” contracts and that has issues.
    1. The contractors have other customers that come in and want their equipment fixed right away.”Paying customers to the front of the line, the state can wait”.
    The contractor is not going to drop everything he is working on at $120.00 an hour for the state low-ball contract of $90.00. They get to the state equipment when they can.
    2. A lot of contractors don’t like waiting until NEXT winter to get paid for work they do THIS winter. The state is a slow paying customer.
    3. Some low bid contractors do poor quality work, overcharge for work not needed, don’t keep a large enough stock of parts etc. They end up sending their mechanic out to numerous locations during backed up traffic for many hours for “emergency parts procurement”, added to the bill. They give the lowest “bid per hour” but state really gets soaked on the number of hours billed.


  35. - Pete - Friday, Jan 31, 14 @ 7:45 am:

    The Rodenburg facility will lose the Elgin-OHare route when the Tollway takes over.

    The mechanics should be keeping the plows ready year round. 4 days of heavy snow fall shouldn’t take a plow out of service. I wonder about the efficeincy and routine maintainence the Union Mechanics are performing. It appears to me that more mechanics wouldn’t help fix the problem.

    The fact that the National Guard was called in tells me that the state has no confidence in the Union Mechanics on the payroll, and this was the only alternative to get the job done.

    IDOT hires seasonal snowbirds and then will provide them with the opportunity to be day laborers. If the drivers are poorly trained and destroying the trucks due to poor operation then the Union is pointing the finger at the wrong issue.

    This stinks of a union trying to pad it’s enrollment.

    Why start touting a report from over 3 years ago that looks at the distribution of vehicles in 2009?

    Of the 14 recommendations in the report, not a single one suggested adding mechanics.

    http://www.auditor.illinois.gov/audit-reports/performance-special-multi/performance-audits/2011%20releases/11-cms-vehicle-fleet-perf-full.pdf


  36. - Dee Lay - Friday, Jan 31, 14 @ 8:14 am:

    Good timely response from IDOT / Jae


  37. - No Sense - Friday, Jan 31, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    The plows break down because hoses break because they may be pushing a lot of snow at one time or they may hit something you can’t see. The Mechanic works on the equipment all year round when needed. Most may have one or two Mechanics to deal with a fleet of 9 to as many of 30 trucks. When we break down with our cars dealers or repair shops many have more then one or two Mechanics. If you saw what they deal with maybe we would understand. We don’t like to wait for the car to be fixed things break down at times we don’t forsee.


  38. - Mister M - Friday, Jan 31, 14 @ 10:40 am:

    Arther Andersen is correct about the plows and that the issue has gone on forever. Staffing has deteriorated dramatically since the start of Blagojevich, as it has in all state agencies. In some cases, smart outsourcing is a proper choice. But pols do this because “reducing headcount” implies greater efficiency (and because contracts are valuable to those who donate). However, when more costly outsourcing simply replaces the reduced headcount, real total personnel costs rise and there is the added consequence of fewer people paying into the pension system - an important consideration these days. Does anyone really think that what is paid for outsourced staff does not include the overhead costs of benefits as well as contractor-consultant profit? Does anyone think that this government is capable of awarding outsourced contracts without shenanigans?


  39. - social media icons - Thursday, Feb 6, 14 @ 9:10 pm:

    Your knowledge is incredibly useful.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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