St. John's officials aren't listening, employee says

Bonnie Belec
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City confident in snowclearing efforts, despite worker’s concerns

The effort to keep city streets clear Monday and Tuesday during the province’s first spring snowfall was a bloody mess, a St. John’s city employee told The Telegram Wednesday.

And if the snow continues there’s no way the reduced work crew will be able to keep up with it, said the  outside worker.
“Everybody is working 16-hour shifts and there’s only two crews,” he said.

City of St. John’s laid off seasonal winter workers on Friday, just three days before Monday’s heavy snowfall, leaving it up to the remaining 50 snowclearing operators to take care of business. — Photos by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

“So it only takes a short time for exhaustion to set in, and when you’re operating those big pieces of equipment, you have got to be alert,” said the employee, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

“We can’t even question policies and procedures, so where does that leave us? The morale at the depot since Christmas, out of 10, I’d say is a three,” he said.

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe told The Telegram Wednesday there were 100 layoffs at the municipal depot Friday, but the remaining employees could handle the necessary snowclearing duties.

Every year around the end of March, the typically 180-member crew is reduced by the department of public works. The extra employees are hired in November and are mostly responsible for snowclearing-related duties.

As winter winds to a close, the majority are laid off and some are redirected to other departments.

O’Keefe said this year was no

different, despite a snowfall of 24 centimetres of snow in the capital city Monday and a forecast of

more Wednesday night and this morning.

The mayor said the 100 people who were laid off weren’t called back, but 30 employees who had been redeployed were assigned back to snowclearing operations.

O’Keefe said given the fact crews are no longer trucking snow and widening roads, the remainder of the employees can handle what needs to be done.

“I can tell you I think our crews are doing a marvellous job,” he said.

Despite what city officials have described as proper snowclearing procedures, the outside worker said there were some roads in the capital city that never saw a plow until Tuesday evening — well past the established protocol.

O’Keefe said the rule has always been if it’s less than 25 cm of snow then every street should have one cut with a plow within 12 hours following the end of the snowfall “and that was pretty well adhered to.”

The worker said it wasn’t.

“Priority 1 and 2 roads were given a lot of attention, but some downtown streets and cul-de-sacs never got any. Look at what happened on Chapel Street,” he said.

A city garbage truck lost control on the street Tuesday afternoon and dragged a Toyota Corolla down over the hill where it came to rest against a Ford Escape SUV parked on Bond Street.

The car was owned by St. John’s writer and comedian Matt Wright.

He told The Telegram Wednesday it’s not the first issue he’s had with snowclearing on the street, but it is the first time his car was totalled by a garbage truck.

The photo in The Telegram on Wright’s website and social media, shows a snow covered intersection of downtown roads.

 Wright, who has written a eulogy to his beloved car that he bought as a gift to himself after graduating from university, said up to that point he hadn’t seen a plow all day.

“There’s no way it would have happened under ideal conditions,” said Wright, who had just come from Avalon Towing to check on his car. “My girl is gone,” he said.

The outside worker said the garbage truck should never have been on the street, especially since it wasn’t plowed.

“With a full crew on it would have been,” he said.

“We know there’s going to be layoffs this time every year, but we didn’t expect they would go ahead when management knew the snow was coming Monday and again tonight,” he said.

O’Keefe said the decision was weighed by city staff.

“The layoff wasn’t done willy nilly,” he said.

“We could have 25 degrees next week and all of this is gone, and you can’t just bring them back for one day. Historically we’ve always done this, and will continue to do it. We analyze forecasts and feel quite confident whatever we may have today, with crew of 80 will be able to handle it,” said the mayor.

O’Keefe said he’s looking forward to the city’s study on its snowclearing operations and encourages residents to submit suggestions.

Expected to cost about $150,000, the terms of reference have gone to public works and will then be presented to council.

Instead of spending money on a study, the outside worker said management should show the workers a little respect and ask them how to improve the service.

Geographic location: Chapel Street

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Recent comments

  • Sean
    March 29, 2014 - 08:37

    When does management, at any company/corporation, ask the employee's advice about what's best. The employees are the best one's to ask, but they would rather waste money on an outside source to do a survey, but they have no clue about the job. This would be a better world if the worker's had a say in policies and procedures because, for the most part, management/government doesn't have a clue

  • Noel Stephenson
    March 27, 2014 - 17:41

    I remember Silly Willie and I only use that name because I can't remember his real name, from my early childhood. He was a kind and gentle man and it warms my heart whenever I think of him. Joanne, you probably didn't deserve that bike anyway, ha,ha.

  • EDfromRED
    March 27, 2014 - 12:43

    Glad to see free speech is still allowed on the Telegram news stories. I tried making a few comments on the CBC website about the atrocious St. John's snowclearing, and how tone deaf Mayor O'Keefe seems to be, but they were "Comments Disable". When I made comments about this Censorship, they were "Disabled" too. The Mayor seems to have supporters at the CBC who see him as blameless. How can a public broadcaster completely censor and ban widespread public opinion?

    • Me
      March 27, 2014 - 14:49

      Waste of time making comments on CBC. Looks like they took the option out.

  • JJB
    March 27, 2014 - 12:22

    It's just another reason why I choose to live in Mount Pearl!!!! And they want us to amalgamate!!!!!!

  • Anna
    March 27, 2014 - 12:17

    We could have 25 degrees next week and all of this is gone, and you can’t just bring them back for one day. Historically we’ve always done this, and will continue to do it. We analyze forecasts and feel quite confident whatever we may have today, with crew of 80 will be able to handle it,” said the mayor. Instead of spending $150,000 on a study, why not give it to Mayor O'Keefe to retire? Imagine making a remark like this with two snow storms forecasted. This council is getting more arrogant by the day. No concern for its citizens especially the walkers, I saw two women walking on Torbay Road this morning getting splashed by water, it was so sad, this day in age that people are forced to walk on the streets.

    • Dolf
      March 27, 2014 - 14:53

      $150,000.00 for a study. Doesn't the mayor know all his council had the solution to snow clearing prior to the election.

  • Really
    March 27, 2014 - 11:30

    It's 12:30 and a plow just went up my street in the west end. Blade was down, scraping the pavement. He wasn't pushing any snow back and there was nothing!!!!! on the road. Who sent this guy out?? The guys have to to what they are told but who told him to go out?? If council wants to review snowclearing, talk to the workers.

  • Cait
    March 27, 2014 - 11:27

    “I can tell you I think our crews are doing a marvellous job,” he said. No one cares what you think

  • Smile
    March 27, 2014 - 11:25

    What is wrong with people in Newfoundland?? I'm almost ashame to say I am a Newfoundlander lately. All yee want to do is bitch about something. Yes the roads were bad but you live in Newfoundland. Plus I am assuming there is only so many trucks that the city has so even if they did not get laid off it's not like they would all be out working on the roads. Can't wait to hear yee bitch about your taxes going up. SMILE more people your alive today so get over the bitching. We can't wave a magic wane to make everything perfect.

    • Sherry
      March 27, 2014 - 14:16

      They got over 30 trucks and there is 29 snow routes. when they get over 5cm of snow they put out 2 loaders on each route.

  • Kelly
    March 27, 2014 - 10:13

    I agree with Lillian; listen to the people doing the work...they know what is required and what needs to be changed.....its not rocket science. Why waste money on a study when you can go to the source and get the answers, doesn't make sense

  • Stuck
    March 27, 2014 - 10:12

    Hey townies ......get over it!

  • Budget
    March 27, 2014 - 10:03

    How can they approve spending for things that they want without first providing for the services needed?

  • Doesn't matter
    March 27, 2014 - 09:54

    The people complaining are probably the ones who voted DOC back in... and it's a shame isn't it?

  • bwalk
    March 27, 2014 - 09:47

    You got who you voted for

  • Edward
    March 27, 2014 - 09:47

    Mayor O'Keefe, If you cannot make wise decisions yourself about snow clearing, just follow the example of Mount Pearl Council.

  • A mom
    March 27, 2014 - 09:40

    Good story it's not only our streets but our side walks are not being cleared.Yesterday while picking up my son from St Marys Waterord Bridge Rd there was a child walking towards me maybe about 9-10.He was walking on the street no sidewalk for him to walk other wise.So between dodging cars and cars trying to avoid the huge pothole in front of the entrance to the school it was a wonder the child wasn't run over.Now they did have a cone over a hole that is 4 foot wide can't wait to see when this is fixed.Now Mr O,Keefe you can imagine trying to avoid a pothole while keeping your eye on a child then watch that you don't sway in front of another car.Maybe you should have stuck to to Teachers Pension instead of trying to run a city that you don't know anything about.Your children must be proud.

  • jen
    March 27, 2014 - 09:33

    Ah so when the chance to ditch the current council came up recently (election) why did so many vote for Doc and his deadbeat buddies? Nothing will change in Sin Jawns

  • forshore
    March 27, 2014 - 08:49

    It makes sense to not have more council workers sitting on their ads when there is no work... but what do you mean that you can't call them back for a day or two??? If we need snow cleared get them in or get a contractor to do it. These silly decisions could actually result in a loss of life due to unsafe roads.

  • Lillian Gear
    March 27, 2014 - 08:33

    Listen to your employees and their opinions as well as residents.

  • Willy O'Nilly
    March 27, 2014 - 08:15

    Outrageous situation and if we could we should have the ability to recall a mayor from elected position and have a re-election for this important position that constitutes the safety of all the metro/city residents either on foot or in a car. Let's not forget the fire and ambulance drivers in times like this! Again it's outrageous! Please resign now!

  • Me
    March 27, 2014 - 08:12

    This morning, a sidewalk plow is doing the sidewalk on Blackmarsh from the city depot up past Dominion. Why??? Is there a school in the area?? Or does somebody need to walk to Dominion for his lunch?

  • Don
    March 27, 2014 - 07:53

    The decision may not have been done Willy Nilly (as O'Keefe says) so it must have been done by Silly Willy.

    • Joanne
      March 27, 2014 - 13:38

      Don, funny you should mention him. I remember Silly Willy from my childhood and he stole my bike.......just saying

  • John
    March 27, 2014 - 07:44

    Doc can never admit when he's/they are wrong.....on any subject... I think we need too put someone in there that will step up and say know what we made a mistake...

  • Nick
    March 27, 2014 - 07:39

    Just because you do something around the same time every year doesn't mean its a good idea. I used to go skating on a pond every tear up until late Feb growing up. It doesn't mean that I ignored weather and other sick ice indicators just because I did it every year. This city/province is having an unnecessarily hard winter. I won't claim to know the political and financial standpoint but in my opinion it is careless and causes unnecessary hardship to not have all the power generating equipment maintence done before late fall, early winter (when the demand goes up), and idiotic to lay off the probably already too few people who have been working hard trying to keep the roads safe all winter. (Very glad the system is being reworked though sad they didn't try to fix it through asking the workers first.) What is that truck had been a bus? And what if that was smashed hadn't been empty? The city is pretty freaking lucky that accident had not been worse and the eulogy was for a car not a bus full of children.

  • Go Figure
    March 27, 2014 - 07:14

    Doc, there are situations when, you have to step outside the role of "Mayor" and use the best skill of your consitiuents and that is COMMON SENSE. I definitely understand the usual procedure of laying off your winter staff before the end of the fiscal year, but come on, really?? At the expense of lives of your consituents which does consist some of your own staff and their children. This is one of the baddest, gravest decision you've made in my book

  • Me
    March 27, 2014 - 06:56

    Management ask the workers how to improve service???? Won't happen. It admits they don't know their job, and apparently they don't.Come on Doc, admit your mistake, like Rob Ford.

  • Guy incognito
    March 27, 2014 - 05:56

    Here we have confirmation that "snow bank" O'keefe is full of crap. Misleading the public. Doc can never admit he is wrong. Be it cancelling snow crews or allowing a restaurant with no parking.

  • Darlene
    March 27, 2014 - 05:54