My Turn: DOT is in crisis, and Sununu isn’t doing anything

For the Monitor
Thursday, August 03, 2017

The state of New Hampshire has a problem. Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill that sends $30 million to towns and cities for road improvements while making an appropriation to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation for local highway improvements and aid for municipal bridges.

He talks big about preserving New Hampshire’s infrastructure, saying it’s “critical to ensure safety of our roads” and “modernizing our state’s roadway and bridge infrastructure.”

Gov. Sununu is conveniently leaving out one major issue: There aren’t enough people to do the work.

NHDOT is in an employment crisis. As a current employee, I see this issue firsthand. The governor is currently battling our union, SEA/SEIU Local 1984, and refusing to allow any wage increases for DOT workers.

This stonewalling is shuttering our department. We’re losing workers to cities and municipalities that can pay $5 to $10 more per hour for the same work. In addition, we’re starting to see huge amounts of workers retire – something that will continue for the next five years.

As a result, we’re not only suffering from high turnover rates, we’re also unable to get people to fill positions. We currently have more than 20 positions open in just one of the six highway districts in the state.

Because positions remain unfilled, we’re not able to get work done at the pace we’re used to. Before, crews could divide and conquer projects. Now, we’re forced to prioritize work only when it gets too bad to ignore. That is not how we should be operating. But, it’s our only option.

When Gov. Sununu gave his budget address in January, he stated, “When you don’t pay anyone more money, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us who believe in capitalism that you’re going to have serious shortages.”

The men and women who keep roads safe in the Granite State are facing serious challenges. And while our governor says the right things, he’s not doing anything to really address those challenges.

We need to fix the wage and employment issues happening across the state. This isn’t something we can ignore. We need our governor to step up and help the individuals who keep our state running.

The state of New Hampshire has a problem. And right now, that problem is Chris Sununu.

(Daniel Brennan is highway maintainer three for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. He lives in Penacook.)