Local transportation industry impacted by labor shortages
Some Vail Resorts shuttle operators walked off the job Friday
Staffing shortages are impacting virtually every sector of Summit County’s economy, including the local transportation industry.
Beginning late Friday, June 4, a small department of shuttle operators employed by Vail Resorts staged a walkout. Former employee Liz Kriston said the move was the culmination of long hours and not enough compensation.
Kriston said she worked for Vail Resorts for three years, one of which was spent running the shuttle service for the Breckenridge Mountain Master Association. When she walked off the job, she said she was working as a senior lead dispatcher.
Kriston said the people who worked in her department, especially the drivers, typically worked upward of 60 hours per week. Kriston said the department currently has five drivers and 11 people total including dispatchers like herself. She said about 10 more positions would need to be filled in order to reach a full staff.
The group staged the walkout Friday to call attention to the wages they felt were inadequate to attract additional staff members.
“It was basically because we asked for a higher starting wage so that we could get more applicants so that we wouldn’t be overworking ourselves, and they raised it by 6 cents,” Kriston said. “They raised it from $12.26 to $12.32, and … it was kind of insulting, if anything, and definitely wouldn’t help fix the problem when the ice cream shop is starting at $17.50.”
Vail Resorts announced this week that it would increase its starting wage to $15 an hour this coming winter, but it’s unclear how that would affect shuttle drivers, who are paid as tipped employees, Kriston said.
The group sent an email to Vail Resorts management stating its request to increase the starting wage. Within that letter, Kriston said the group offered to meet with management Friday, June 11, to reach a conclusion but that its offer to meet hadn’t been acknowledged.
Sara Lococo, senior communications and marketing manager for Vail Resorts, said the company wouldn’t comment on private personnel matters but confirmed the shuttle service was stalled due to personnel disruptions. She said Vail was currently training staff members to run the shuttle service, which would be up and running again Friday.
Vail isn’t the only one with staffing difficulties in its transportation department. Summit Stage Transit Director Chris Lubbers said it’s been hard finding licensed commercial drivers since even before the pandemic.
“Long before COVID, transit has had a supply and demand challenge,” Lubbers said. “It’s something that transit in particular has been dealing with for a long time.”
Lubbers said rural areas like Summit County need to conduct frequent, aggressive efforts to find and attract new talent. These efforts include local advertising such as with the radio and on the sides and insides of the buses. This also means reaching out to other destination communities and attracting drivers who are wrapping up a seasonal position.
Lubbers said drivers’ schedules are based on a 40-hour work week. Currently, the Summit Stage has 10 routes, 36 buses and about 62 commercial drivers. The starting wage is $19.69 an hour, which Lubbers said helps the county stay competitive with other markets.
Luckily for Lubbers and his team, the Summit Stage operation has seen a slight uptick in the number of applications it has received in the past year. Lubbers said this is partly due to COVID-19: As people lost their jobs, they turned to Summit Stage, which has helped Lubber’s candidate pool.
In addition to the Summit Stage, local chauffeur companies like Jake’s Mountain Shuttle are struggling to find and attract talent. Managerial consultant Edward Lerner said the company hires subcontractors, similar to how Uber and Lyft operate, to drive its vehicles. Right now, the company has six staff members but ideally would be operating with up to 12.
“I think one of the big issues is we like to market ourselves as ski bums and locals,” Lerner said. “… It’s been really hard with the housing crisis to find people who can move up here and want to work hard and go after business when it’s the busy time, and they know how to budget for when it’s a bit slower. It’s a very idiosyncratic community up here as it is in many mountain towns.”
Lerner said the shuttle service has a few tools it’s planning to employ to help stay competitive in the market. Lerner said the owner of Jake’s Mountain Shuttle offers a generous profit-sharing pool to employees. And now that fuel prices are increasing, Lerner said the company plans to bump up its rates, thus paying its subcontractors a higher wage.
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