PennDOT uses driver database to recruit

Controversy over recruitment process ensues

News The Patriot-News August 14, 2007
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Mary Shanaman was astounded to realize she was paying for the state of Pennsylvania to recruit her employees.

Shanaman, president of Commonwealth Supply Co. in York County, wondered why her drivers showed up at work with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recruitment fliers. She contacted the York County Chamber of Commerce and state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York, to see what they could find out.

They learned that PennDOT was contacting potential workers through the state’s commercial driver’s license database.

"We're regulated," she said about the company. "All of our drivers are regulated. They get a list that small business isn't privy to, and they try and recruit them.”

Shanaman's drivers weren't the only potential employees PennDOT tried to entice. The state agency sent out 100,000 recruitment brochures in July, said PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick.

PennDOT has historically had trouble finding drivers. It currently needs to fill 494 positions for its winter maintenance program, which is involved with removing snow from state roads.

After hearing from Shanaman, Gillespie called PennDOT and confirmed that the agency was using the database.

"I have some concerns about that," he said.

The database includes more than just drivers' contact information. It includes their histories, which would give PennDOT the ability to recruit only the best drivers, Gillespie said.

"I thought that was really an unfair advantage over private industry," he said.

Gillespie recently sent a letter to PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler, asking the department to stop the practice.

"CDL licensees do not obtain a CDL license to be solicited by the department, nor should the department utilize private and privileged information for its own gain," Gillespie wrote.

The York County Chamber of Commerce, which 1,900 members, has sent a similar letter to Gov. Ed Rendell, asking him to urge PennDOT to stop the practice. The chamber also questioned whether other state agencies were using similar recruitment methods.

"We strongly object to this approach," wrote Tom Donley, president of the York County chamber. "It shows bureaucratic insensitivity to business needs, or worse, officially sanctioned unfair competition."

Some feel that PennDOT’s situation is unique and they are just doing what they need to do to recruit.

"It's different then, let's say, the Health Department, or someone who's got a list of those types of professionals," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said. "PennDOT needs to recruit. We all know that CDL drivers are in high demand. PennDOT is just using its resources to the best of its ability, trying to fill positions that are important to the health and safety of Pennsylvania drivers."

Whether the governor will ask PennDOT to abandon the practice hasn't been determined.

"The governor doesn't advocate the process," Ardo said. "But the discreet use of the resources available to fill positions certainly benefits the commonwealth."

This is the first time PennDOT has used the database as a recruitment tool; in the past, the agency has used message boards along roads to recruit drivers, Kirkpatrick said.

"The challenge is our pay scales tend to be underneath what is offered by private industry," Kirkpatrick said. "It's a challenge finding drivers for this critical service. We felt this was a legal channel available to us."

The jobs PennDOT needs to fill are part-time and on-call positions, Kirkpatrick said. But they could lead to permanent employment.

Kirkpatrick was unsure how many drivers the state has hired as a result of the mass-mailings, but said the department is pleased with the response.

Whether it continues the practice of using the database remains to be seen.

"We're not sure, at this point, whether we'll do it again," Kirkpatrick said.

Gillespie said he's asked the Legislative Reference Bureau to draft legislation to ban the practice.

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