Inslee Stands by Vaccine Mandate Despite Snowplow Driver Shortage
The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Governor Jay Inslee is standing firm on his COVID-19 vaccine mandate that resulted in the loss of more than 400 Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) employees.
Inslee stated in a virtual press conference Wednesday, that he was begining to see issues with snowplow drivers and the mandates. However, Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee threw cold water on the notion the governor was reconsidering the vaccine mandate pertaining to snowplow drivers shortly after.
“No, he is not reassessing his position,” she said in an email response to The Center Square. “The issue of snowplow drivers has been one that other states and jurisdictions are dealing with as well.”
Several states have reported a dearth of snowplow drivers due to the ongoing labor shortage and concerns about the pandemic, including the more contagious omicron variant of the virus.
“Everyone’s sort of competing for the same group of workers and private companies can often offer higher salaries than the state government,” Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT spokesperson, told the Associated Press in December.
In November, WSDOT Communications Director Kris Rietmann Abrudan told The Center Square a shortage of workers was already affecting the agency.
“Our staffing challenges are complex. WSDOT had them before the mandate and while the mandate was a contributing factor, it was certainly not the only one,” she said. “Compared to Nov. 15, 2019 – a more typical pre-pandemic winter – we were down 142 positions as of Oct. 1, 2021. After the Oct. 18 mandate another 151 staff in those positions separated or retired from the agency for a total of 293 fewer winter ops positions filled compared to a typical winter.”
At about the same time, a WSDOT presentation to legislative staff indicated that winter travelers should expect longer road closures due to storms and avalanches because the agency would not provide its usual level of service.
Despite these challenges, Lee indicated that Inslee’s position on the issue is solid.
“His previous statements on the issue stand and his comment [Wednesday] was not an admission of any kind,” she said.
In the past, Inslee has dismissed concerns about significant disruptions in state services due to the vaccine mandate.
“I am confident that state services, health care, and educational instruction and services will continue with minimal disruption,” Inslee said in a written statement on October 18.
A week earlier, Inslee made a similar prediction.
“The state has been diligent in the contingency planning for scenarios after the October 18 vaccination deadline,” the governor said. “The sky-high vaccination rates we’re seeing should settle any concerns. There will not be massive disruptions in state services.”
On Thursday morning, WSDOT announced all three cross-state mountain passes – Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and White Pass – were closed due to dangerous weather conditions.