DelDOT employees’ union chief calls for hazardous duty pay

DOVER — The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee continued its look at a state budget Wednesday with housing, finance and transportation officials appearing before the committee.

Members are set to meet today and next week, with more hearings still to be scheduled.

Gov. John Carney will release his proposed budget in about six weeks.

While officials for the departments of Transportation and Finance and the Delaware State Housing Authority avoided the type of grilling the Department of Education had received, one public speaker took JFC to task.

Jim Spencer, a union representative for DelDOT employees, spoke about granting hazardous duty pay to certain DelDOT workers.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to understand we’re out in the road and we got cars driving by us,” Mr. Spencer said.

A bill to give DelDOT employees who work on major roads hazardous duty pay passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House.

Some jobs, like snowplow operators and mechanics, make less than $15 an hour, Mr. Spencer said.

“That is a constant theme that we’ve heard through these hearings, that the wages the state is paying is not really fair,” said Rep. J.J. Johnson, D-New Castle.

At least 33 DelDOT employees have died on the job over the years.

DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan, one of several holdovers from the administration of Gov. Jack Markell, said the agency is facing issues with turnover.

It also employs 93 fewer people from eight years ago.

“We’re basically doing three times the work with the same amount — actually, less — people,” Ms. Cohan said.

Unlike most departments, its budget — currently at about $342 million — has shrunk over the past few years. The agency has seen its debt reduced from about $132 million eight years ago to $96 million this fiscal year.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, questioned Ms. Cohan about the potential success of a new entryway to the Dover Mall.

A new access road would connect the mall to Del. Route 1, which the mall’s owners believe would bring in more shoppers. Because the project would not begin for several years if it was handled by DelDOT, supporters are working to enable a public-private partnership where private funds would pay for the road, which would then be turned over to the state.

Levy Court last week approved two resolutions supporting draft legislation to help move the project alone.

Housing Director Anas Ben Addi also appeared before the committee.

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