Searching for workers

County unemployment down, worker numbers up in 2006


It's Monday morning in Craig, and John Olney with the Teamsters Union is talking with drivers hauling pipe from the Craig railhead to a destination in Jenson, Utah.

He's got a problem. There is more work than people to fill the jobs.

And it's only going to get worse this summer.

"I've got four jobs to man right now, and it isn't going to happen," Olney said. "There's a worker shortage."

Recent statistics provided by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment back up that statement, showing Moffat County had a 3.4 percent unemployment rate in December 2006. That's down from 4 percent in December 2005, even with 651 new workers added to the county's workforce in 2006.

The low unemployment rate is being partially fueled by the growth of energy-related jobs, many of which are on the state's Western Slope.

The worker shortage is being felt mildly at the Colorado Workforce Center in Craig, partially because some seasonal businesses are purposely understaffing for the winter.

"That board of job listings was completely full last summer," said Jean Taylor, senior worker at the workforce center, pointing to the job board that covers one wall. "Some seasonal job listings in construction and tourism won't come in until April."

She said local restaurants also use minimal staffing in the winter, waiting for spring to hire summer help.

Although 183 current job listings are available at the workforce center, there is always a rush when energy-related jobs are listed, senior worker Norma Buffham said.

"We were really busy the last couple of weeks," she said. "We had a lot of applications filled out for an opening at Tri-State (Craig Station Power Plant.)"

Buffham said when Trapper Mining Co. Rio Tinto and Twentymile Coal Co. expand workforces, it results in a surge of applications at the workforce center.

She anticipates that trend to continue as a number of workers reach retirement age at the mines and the power plant.

Employment specialist Linda Dill is bracing the workforce center for the expected influx of demand for energy-related jobs in the coming summer.

"That energy boom is there," she said. "It just hasn't hit Craig yet. I'm hoping we see the impact."

Dill said last week an employer starting well-drilling operations in Moffat County was in the office looking for a couple of workers to get things going before he starts hiring crews.

Dill follows the statistics on energy jobs in Rifle, Meeker and Rangely, and she knows the boom is coming this direction.

As sections of pipe continue to be off-loaded from railroad cars south of First Street in Craig, Olney hopes the higher wages paid by his union will attract the workers he needs.

Olney likes to hire locally whenever possible, but he said it's hard to find qualified individuals right now. What he is looking for are union drivers and operators for a number of pipeline projects in the area. They need to be at least 18 years old and able to pass a drug test.

"We got the rates up to $22 per hour in Wyoming and $24.50 here in Colorado," he said. "We try to hire operators and drivers locally, but you push people where you need them."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or

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