By Jamie Leary

(CBS4) – Labor shortages have hit commercial drivers in the oil industry. The owner of one Colorado company says it’s time to “cut the feeding tube” when it comes to pandemic unemployment benefits.

“I’m okay with unemployment benefits in certain situations like being laid off. The problem with the State of Colorado is they give unemployment for any reason at all and it gets taken advantage of. I don’t support any of the extra payments the government is paying,” said Mike Knowles, Owner of Knowles Transportation.

Knowles estimates his company is spending around $10,000 per month in recruiting fees and advertisements. In his 18 years in business, he’s never had such a difficult time.

(credit: CBS)

“Right now, not having the drivers, we’re turning away work you know? So, while we have a great business, and we have great opportunities if you’ve got nobody to drive these trucks, and you can’t get people in to fix them, it just doesn’t work out very well for you,” said Knowles.

Knowles says he’s had to increase salaries to help recruit drivers which, in turn, raises the cost of his product and as a result, gas prices. He also says the driver shortage has led to delays in deliveries at the pump. Especially in the high country where motorists are flocking for the holiday.

“…and when you start shutting down pipelines, the aftereffect is we have to truck it further, so if you have to truck it further and there’s no drivers, that’s a real challenge.”

He believes the state needs to follow what other states are doing and pull back unemployment benefits to incentivize people to work, but the Gov. Jared Polis’ office believes it’s important to keep the benefits in place.

(credit: CBS)

On top of unemployment, the governor’s office says it’s leading the way in getting people back to work through Colorado Jumpstart, a program being offered to Colorado unemployment recipients who returned to work between May 16 and June 26, 2021. Those who returned to work before June 1 were eligible to receive $1,600, and after, $1,200.

In an email a spokesperson for the governor’s office said 17,000 claimants have opted into the program.

“Governor Polis is working to deliver real results and ensure we all build back stronger than before. Congress shouldn’t be paying it if they don’t want states to use it. It’s free money from the federal government for Colorado and if Colorado ended it before Congress is paying it through the first week in September, it would drain roughly $600 – 800 million out of our state,” wrote Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office. “Governor Polis is focused on swiftly and effectively distributing millions in relief from federal stimulus received by the state and he appreciates the work of those in the federal delegation that sought to ensure Colorado received this much-needed funding. If Congress would like to increase the flexibility on how Colorado could use the $600-800 million, Colorado would be interested in other uses, but it would not be in our best interest to send it back instead of sending it along to Coloradans in need. We know that just because more Coloradans are returning to full-time work after this global pandemic, it doesn’t mean their financial challenges are going to simply disappear. Coloradans who are out of work are looking for jobs across our state and Colorado was one of the earlier states to put the requirement back in place that all unemployment beneficiaries are actively searching for a job to qualify for benefits. We’re thrilled that thousands of claimants have already opted into the Jumpstart program this month and more and more workers are taking advantage of the $1200 incentive if they return to work and end their unemployment benefits. When the Governor was in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction this month, he heard very positive things about how the bonuses have increased applications.”

Overall, Colorado’s unemployment rate is 6.4% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, putting Colorado 35th in the country. Colorado’s labor force grew by 1,300 in May to 3,198,100. The share of Coloradans participating in the labor force was 68.6% in May, just below the pre-pandemic February 2020 labor force participation rate of 68.7 percent.

Jamie Leary