CUPE raises safety concerns over snowplowing budget cuts

The union representing snowplow operators in New Brunswick is raising safety concerns about cuts in the Department of Transportation.

Union says operators can't guarantee safety with $9M being cut from winter maintenance program

The union representing snowplow operators in New Brunswick is raising safety concerns about cuts in the Department of Transportation.

CUPE Local 1190 president Andy Hardy says DOT is cutting $9 million from its winter maintenance program this year and parking another 26 plows and graders.

Hardy says there are 70 fewer operators than last year and members feel they can't guarantee the safety of all roadways.

"The biggest concern with our operators is that, you know, with the added kilometres to their routes and all the different areas, they just don't have enough time to get those roads done before the buses are out on them and that's our biggest concern," said Hardy.

That happened on Monday, which is unheard of, he said.

But snowplow operators are under orders to restrict overtime, which means not starting work as soon as there's a storm, or before a storm arrives, Hardy said.

"They want to do the roads, they want to be out there 24/7 because you know they live in these communities that they plow these roads. Their friends, their neighbours, their families travel on these roads and they want to make sure they're safe."

Minister 'disappointed' by allegations

Transportation Minister Claude Williams did not agree to an interview with CBC, but department staff provided a written statement.

"Every depot will remain open this winter as in the past. There will still be a sufficient number of staff and plows working to take care of the highways," said Williams in the emailed statement.

Williams said winter maintenance policies will be followed for level of service and the roads will be taken care of as usual.

"We are very disappointed with CUPE's allegations and we take strong exception to the comments from the union," said Williams. "As a government, we are responsible and accountable to the people and we take this very seriously.

In no instance would we take action to put New Brunswickers at risk for the sake of saving a few dollars.- Transportation Minister Claude Williams

"In no instance would we take action to put New Brunswickers at risk for the sake of saving a few dollars," he said.

"Winter in New Brunswick is challenging and both my staff and motorists need to be diligent and responsible when venturing out in conditions which are less than favourable."

In November 2011,  Williams announced snowplow staff would be reduced by 28 and said with additional cuts he hoped to save $2.2 million over two years.

Depending on the weather, the provincial government spends between $55 million and $75 million a year on winter road maintenance, government officials have said.

Williams' goal at that time was to reduce spending by $4 million a year, he said.

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