buses

Passengers exit the Route 11 bus of Mountain Metro Transit Monday, April 6, 2020, at the downtown Colorado Springs terminal. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The Mountain Metro bus driver and service shortage The Gazette reported Monday is not unique to Colorado Springs. Across the state and country, private companies and public entities have had the same problem incentivizing workers to take gigs that ensure the world goes round like our communities of workers and families need it to.

In an affluent part of Colorado, Summit County, the local public school district in August placed middle and high school students in a lottery for bus pickup because routes had been reduced 39% due to a driver shortage. A month later, the father of an athlete drove a bus to enable the football team to play a Saturday game in Denver.

This “new normal” means families who rely on public transportation aren’t guaranteed the very services they fund with their taxpayer money. It’s a quandary that affects the working class more. The parents who drive into King Soopers before dawn are hurt more than the remote workers who can break from a Zoom call to drive their kids in.

With “help wanted” signs everywhere, the human resource shortage is perhaps most acutely showcased in a predicament at Raising Cane’s. The growing national fast-food chain has 15 restaurants up and down the Interstate 25 corridor between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. Last Thursday, Bloomberg reported the company is sending about half its office professionals to work in the field as fry cooks, cashiers and employment recruiters.

“It’s no secret that today’s hiring market is a challenge,” said AJ Kumaran, co-CEO of Raising Canes, “and ahead of our massive growth next year, having the support we need is critical. We are all in this together.”

That’s quite the understatement in a time replete with misleading information from powerful officials. Kumaran’s quote is one in a long list of statements from executives in recent weeks that feel — at least to the American workers in a saddled economy — like business leaders are tiptoeing around the obvious: the workforce dilemma is a growing dumpster fire.

Friday’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported only 194,000 jobs were created in September. That not only was 47% below the 366,000 jobs created the month prior, but it is also the fewest gained since December 2020, right before the very first Americans were able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Even worse, women lost 26,000 jobs in September. That’s the worst loss since May 2011, excepting the height of the pandemic shutdown in March and April of 2020. All this in a post-vaccine economy most Americans hoped would roar back to life by now.

Worse yet, these trends seem like they might be the prelude to even more workforce and transportation disruption. The tip of that iceberg might have been seen this weekend when people across Colorado looked down at a phone notice to see they were on one of more than 1,800 flights Southwest Airlines canceled Saturday and Sunday. That included, as the Gazette reported, 164 flights canceled and 224 delayed on Sunday in Denver and the Springs.

As the Southwest dilemma has evolved, the company has blamed disruptions on weather and air traffic control problems. Some speculate the company’s recent announcement of a COVID vaccine mandate for employees played a part. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said Monday that he’s against making employees take the vaccine, but President Joe Biden’s federal mandate forced the company to impose a mandate.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association publicly denied “official or unofficial job actions,” but the union said pilots will continue to overcome “external operational challenges” and said the airline’s operation “has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure.”

The statements — and the service disruption that ground holiday weekend travel to a screeching halt — came in the wake of the union on Friday asking a federal court to block the airline’s vaccine mandate.

While time, good journalistic reporting and legal transparency will tell what exactly is going on with Southwest, we know now there is a growing problem affecting the working class who don’t drive Teslas and hop on NetJets.

This brings us back to Kumaran’s “we are all in this together” claim.

Are we? Does the government’s approach to the pandemic and economy help workers?

The labor shortage is a cruel byproduct of the pandemic, and we’re going to feel it for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, be sure to thank those drivers, pilots and others who continue working through it all.

The Gazette Editorial Board