The union that represents outside workers in St. John's is questioning a city decision to lay off almost two thirds of the people who remove snow.

Over the weekend, the city's snowclearing staff dropped from 180 to 50 positions in what deputy city manager Paul Mackey said occurs routinely at this time of year.

Mackey said Monday's storm, which dropped 20 cm of snow at St. John's International Airport, came as a surprise as it was much more powerful than earlier forecasts had indicated.

"That one wasn't on the radar," said Mackey, who nonetheless insisted that reduced staff can handle the weather, including a tough storm expected later this week.

Earl Noble Bond Chapel Street garbage street accident

A garbage truck lost control while trying to get down a hill in St. John's on Tuesday. The truck hit several parked vehicles, blocking traffic on Bond Street at the bottom of Chapel Street. (Photo submitted by Earl Noble)

"Now Wednesday, the probability is that that's going to be a mix of snow and rain which won't be a long-lasting storm as far as snowclearing goes."

Conditions on some roads in St. John's early Tuesday were notably rough, with early traffic navigating between ridges of snow.

Brian Farewell, a national representative with CUPE, said the city acted too soon with its scheduled layoffs.

Farewell said the city should have kept on at least two shifts, rather than a single shift of 50 people.

"It makes sense [because] people are working time-and-a-half or working double, instead of straight time," he said.

"The second shift could have been kept on and it could have paid for itself."

Farewell said laying off the operators while there is still snow in the forecast makes the workers look bad in the public's eye.

"Here we are, with 100,000 people-plus in the area with no snowclearing …they should have used the same rationale as the school board did, and not leave citizens high and dry like they are right now," said Farewell, referring to the English School Board's decision to cancel classes on Monday as the storm swept in.