Manitoba

City could save $3M if public employees removed snow: CUPE

CUPE Local 500 says the city could save $3 million a year if its members took over snow removal operations.

City CAO says CUPE's proposal not economical

From left to right, Matt McLean, researcher with CUPE Local 500, Mike Davidson, CUPE 500 president, Herb Hajer, Double H Consulting. On Friday the union released a report on snow clearing in Winnipeg, and says the city could safe millions by having public employees do the work. (CBC)

If City of Winnipeg employees were responsible for core snow removal operations the city could save between $1 million and $3 million dollars per year, according to Mike Davidson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 (CUPE). 

To make those cost savings work, CUPE estimates Winnipeg would need to buy at least $28 million in new equipment and hire 150 new employees, who would do construction for the city in the off-season. Currently 80 per cent of the plowing is done by private companies in Winnipeg.

The union admits it does not yet have all the data to back up its assertion the city could save money by relying less on contractors. For example, it doesn't know what the city pays per kilometre to clean snow. But Davidson stands by the argument private contractors aren't a guarantee of cost savings.

"We know that average hourly equipment when it's farmed out [to private companies, costs the city] $140 an hour and we can do this operation for $65 an hour... That's the information that we were able to obtain from the city," said Davidson.

What is clear is Winnipeggers are not happy with the quality of the work being done, according to CUPE.

"Residents are finding, as private contractors take on an ever-growing responsibility for snow clearing in Winnipeg, that snow clearing is not being treated as the crucial public service it is," according to Public Plowing Works, a new report by CUPE based on a public survey the union released Friday.

Seventy-one per cent of comments made by participants in the CUPE survey of current operations were negative. Residents in the eastern areas of Winnipeg were the least happy with their service, while residents in southern Winnipeg were the most satisfied.

Grievances varied from complaints over slow or inadequate removal to allegations of damaged fences and lawns caused by plow blades.

"A common theme that emerged was private contractors not 'dropping the blade', or not clearing directly to the street, resulting in a layer of snow and ice that compacted over time to create the ruts that became common on Winnipeg streets in recent winters," CUPE said.

The situation could be improved, asserts the union, by restoring the bulk of snow plowing operations to city employees and increase "civic oversight" of private contractors.

"The costs are expensive and the quality of the service is down," said Davidson, "there's no consistency in what we're seeing [from private contractors]."

Snow removal complaints pile up

For the past two winters there have been public outcries about uneven surfaces and windrows on Winnipeg roads. Last winter, mayor Brian Bowman said snow clearing left him disappointed, as well.

"Quite honestly I'd like to see a better job and I'm always going to be looking for better work and outcomes always, and I think Winnipeggers should expect their mayor to be not satisfied at any time," he said last January.

In 2014, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said clearing has been a major issue among people in his ward.

"[Crews] just don't seem to be able to do it in the 12 hours [required after a snowfall]. Maybe they're not putting enough crews on or machines," he wondered.

'Quite frankly, I don't think [it's] economical'

The millions of dollars worth of new equipment CUPE proposes the city buy raises red flags for the city's chief administrative officer, Doug McNeil.

"We'd have to acquire all that equipment. That's a capital expense [that] quite frankly I don't think is economical," he said.

"Also, where are you going to put this equipment? Where is it going to operate out of? So we'd have to develop more yards for this equipment to sit in, to go home to."

Last winter, many drivers complained about poor road clearing in Winnipeg. St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes called for the snow removal contractors to be fired and new ones hired.
Storage and maintenance of any equipment would come at a cost as well, McNeil said.

"We feel it's more cost-effective to contract out 80 per cent of that work," he said.

"Contractors already have that equipment. They use it for summer construction operations. If it wasn't for snow clearing operations, that equipment would sit in the winter."

McNeil said he has asked public works to review CUPE's report, but the city's official report on snow clearing is due in early November.

"We have a report coming to council that will address the costs of the city providing services versus the contracting industry, or the city taking over 100 per cent of providing those snow clearing services," he said. 

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