End of shutdown nears, but money tight for some contractors

Steve and Bonnie Kloos
Steve and Bonnie Kloos, at their home in rural St. Croix Falls, Wis. Steve Kloos was laid off from his job on a MnDOT road construction crew suspended during the shutdown.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

At 4 p.m. on June 30, Steve Kloos heard the news.

"The government shut down and we're getting laid off," he remembered hearing.

Until that moment, Kloos and a crew of nearly two dozen workers for Shafer Contracting had been on the job for about a month resurfacing a portion of Interstate 35 near Hinckley, earning $28 an hour with full benefits.

The shutdown that began July 1 halted all state road construction projects, and they'll remain that way until MnDOT tells construction companies to resume work.

That can't happen until lawmakers approve a new budget, which will likely happen early this week. But until that happens, 22,000 state employees will remain out of work along with thousands of private sector workers. That includes many in the construction sector, like Kloos.

"We were working 12 to 15 hours a day," he said. "We were doing well, and then it went right to nothing."

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He's watched his slim financial reserves shrink to nearly nothing over the past two weeks. Kloos, 49, is tall, lanky and has a soft-spoken demeanor. He sports a shock of reddish blonde hair and a deep tan characteristic of people who work outdoors.

Kloos said he can earn up to $40,000 during Minnesota's seven-month construction season.

The Kloos home narrowly avoided storm damage
On top of being laid off from his Minnesota road construction job, Steve Kloos returned home to St. Croix Falls. Wis., to find his house had narrowly averted major storm damage.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

His wife, Bonnie Kloos, said they save a portion of the money to tide them over through the winter and, supplemented with her year-round salary from a part-time job at the University of Minnesota, they can make ends meet.

But even if construction projects resume fairly soon, Bonnie Kloos says losing her husband's paycheck the last couple of weeks has put a serious crimp in the family's finances.

"We don't have anything in reserves, we weren't ready for it," she said."It's going to be hard to make the mortgage payment next month, it'll be really hard, and still have groceries and electric and gas."

Since the shutdown began, the family stopped going out for meals and movies, and they've quit taking short weekend excursions with their two kids.

Bonnie Kloos said they are living paycheck to paycheck, and the impact on the family is huge.

"I've been kinda depressed about the whole thing because it was so unexpected," said Bonnie Kloos.

"You don't really think about how many people can affect your job you know way up at the State Capitol and all of a sudden they make a decision and I'm laid off," said Steve Kloos.

"[Lawmakers] have their choice as to whether to take a paycheck or not, and we don't have that choice and that's what kills me,"

Bonnie and Steve Kloos and their two children live on land in the rolling and forested hills of rural St. Croix Falls, Wis.

They say many of their neighbors have jobs in Minnesota as well.

Trade and construction association officials estimate as many as 15,000 private sector workers have lost their jobs as a result of the shutdown.

Besides thousands of road construction workers like Steve Kloos, there are suppliers, supervisors, fabricators and designers off the job.

Shafer Contracting, Stev Kloos' employer for the past six years, has about 300 workers and a company official says half of them are laid off.

Bonnie Kloos said elected officials should have done more to avoid a shutdown in the first place.

"They have their choice as to whether to take a paycheck or not, and we don't," she said. "That's what kills me."

If lawmakers meeting in special session approve the deal fashioned by their leaders, trade and construction officials say it's still not clear how soon Steve Kloos and thousands of other private sector workers might be called back to their jobs.

Road and bridge project contracts say that the companies need written permission from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to return.

A spokesman for Shafer Contracting says it could be a week before they are able to remobilize and get equipment and workers back to the sites.