Highways went unpatrolled, the National Guard was called out to staff prisons and Montanans worried that snowplows would sit idle amid Friday's storm as thousands of state workers remained on strike.
"If we have a snowstorm and the snowplows don't come out - that could be real interesting," Gallatin County Sheriff Bill Slaughter said.A spring storm dropped snow on central and southwest Montana overnight and forecasters said it was possible that up to 4 feet could accumulate. Plows were expected to remain idle as long as their licensed drivers remain on strike.
Dennis Unsworth, chief spokesman for the state Highway Department, said some roads may be closed if the strike and the storm continue.
More than 4,000 state employees walked off the job Thursday after the Legislature failed to override Gov. Stan Stephens' veto of a 60-cent-an-hour pay raise for most workers.
State officials and union negotiators halted talks late Thursday after failing to reach a new agreement, which would still have to be approved by Stephens and the Legislature. Talks were expected to resume Friday.
In the meantime, about 300 National Guardsmen filled in for guards at state prisons and at state homes for veterans and the elderly. The Montana Highway Patrol and other state agencies operated with skeleton crews drawn from management.
"We're not doing any patrolling," said Col. Robert Griffith, the patrol's commander. "I guess we're just attempting to respond to emergencies with our sergeants, lieutenants and captains."
Griffith said about 90 percent of the patrol's force was on strike.
Four probation officers were left to handle cases involving about 3,000 state parolees, said Kathleen Burgess, a parole and probation officer in Missoula.
The Legislature, which meets every other year, was to adjourn this year's session Friday. Legislators called an indefinite recess Thursday to give negotiators a chance to reach an agreement.