Politics & Government

More than half of DMV workers polled say they’ll quit if agency moves to Rocky Mount

DMV employee voices concerns over plan to move headquarters

N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles employee Errico Moore voices concerns over a proposal to move the DMV headquarters from Raleigh to Rocky Mount prior to a forum Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 at the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
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N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles employee Errico Moore voices concerns over a proposal to move the DMV headquarters from Raleigh to Rocky Mount prior to a forum Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 at the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

More than half of workers at DMV’s Raleigh headquarters who responded to a question about their plans if the agency moves to Rocky Mount said they would look for another job, according to a summary of meetings with employees last week.

More than 400 Division of Motor Vehicles employees were asked about their plans to remain with the DMV after the move, and 255 responded. Of those, 145 said they would quit DMV if the headquarters office moves to leased space in Rocky Mount, with another 62 saying they were “uncertain.”

Only 48 said they would stay with the agency if it follows through with its plans to move in 2020. The Council of State, a board made up of Gov. Roy Cooper and nine other statewide elected officials, could vote to approve the lease when it meets Tuesday morning.

The survey suggests the DMV could have to replace dozens of employees at the same time the agency is moving. More than 15 percent of DMV’s headquarters jobs are already vacant, Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon told the Council of State in a conference call last month.

The North Carolina state Division of Motor Vehicles plans to move hundreds of workers and its headquarters from its long-time home on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh to Rocky Mount.

The feedback from employees will not be shared with the Council of State before Tuesday’s vote, said Nicole Meister, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Transportation. The “listening sessions” were primarily held so DMV can understand what employees think of the move and help develop strategies to make it easier and reduce turnover, Meister said.

“It’s not going to be shared with the Council of State because it’s not specific to the vote,” she said. “It’s really for us to develop our plans.”

Asked to choose among possible steps DMV could take to persuade them to stay, the largest number of employees picked more flexible work schedules and being allowed to work remotely full- or part-time. Other possibilities, based on comments made by employees, include offering day care and a cafeteria on-site in Rocky Mount and establishing a “retention pay plan for knowledge critical staff.”

NCDOT knows the move will not be easy on employees, and hopes the listening sessions will help, Meister said.

“You want to try to retain as many of those people as possible with the different strategies we can offer,” she said. “This is the first step in that.”

Move deadline

DMV can’t stay on its current campus on New Bern Avenue east of downtown Raleigh. Because of problems with asbestos and fire safety, the agency agreed several years ago to vacate the property by November 2020. The General Assembly pressed the issue last year when it passed legislation directing DMV to seek proposals for offices it could begin leasing in Wake or surrounding counties by Oct. 1, 2020.

The state received a dozen proposals, all of them in Wake County or Research Triangle Park except the one in Rocky Mount. The rent for that property was the cheapest, and DMV officials have said they feel obligated under state law to choose the lowest bidder that met its space needs.

But critics have said moving an hour’s drive from the current headquarters would come with costs the DMV had not calculated, including the need to replace employees who choose not to go.

Robert Broome, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said the state should consider the cost of recruiting and training new workers.

“I think it’s a terrible sign that fewer than 20 percent of the workforce is indicating that they’re willing to make the move,” Broome said.

DMV mapped where its headquarters employees live and calculated that it would take them an average of 57 minutes to get to the Rocky Mount complex, and about the same time to get home.

Nereida Gonzalez of Wake Forest, who has worked at DMV for five years, says she won’t make the drive to Rocky Mount, because it will lengthen her work day and put her too far away from her disabled daughter, who needs constant care when Gonzalez is at work. In an interview last month, Gonzalez said she expects lots of her co-workers to make the same decision.

“I think it’s going to create a lot of hardship,” she said. “They’re going to lose most of their experienced workers.”

Employees who took part in the listening sessions were told the final decision on the move had not been made, but most understood that Rocky Mount would be the destination, according to the summary report. When asked whether they would remain with DMV, workers were told to base their answer on a move of more than 30 miles from the current headquarters; the only potential site that meets that criteria is in Rocky Mount.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.