Layoffs will slow snowclearing next winter, city acknowledges

James McLeod
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Top City of St. John's bureaucrats acknowledged Tuesday that cutting $1.35 million and laying off 48 workers will mean slower snowclearing next winter, but it’s tough to say by how much.

Coun. Danny Breen (right) and top city bureaucrats Lynnann Winsor and Kevin Breen, speak with reporters Tuesday.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Coun. Danny Breen stood up at Monday night’s city council meeting and insisted that due to “optimization” of workers, services wouldn’t be harmed.

“Of course, I mean, any time you have a reduction of eight people from a shift, your response time might not be as good as it was when you had eight people on that shift,” associate city manager Kevin Breen said.

“There will be some delays, obviously, because you don’t have as many people working.”

Both Kevin Breen and Danny Breen said the important thing is that even if plowing roads takes longer than it used to, it’ll still be within the city’s mandated targets — 12 hours after a snowstorm for a first cut, and 24 hours after a storm for widening.

Under the new system, there will still be workers available to clear the sidewalks, as well as plow operators for the roads, but “spare” operators are getting eliminated, as well as a full, separate shift of daytime sidewalk snowclearing workers.

This is expected to save $1.3 million from next year’s budget, at a time when the city council is under siege for raising taxes and cutting services to manage a budget crunch.

The measures were passed unanimously by council Monday night.

In the wake of the decision, CUPE spokesman Brian Farewell said the city’s message about services not being harmed is bunk.

“It is nonsensical to talk about reducing each shift by the numbers that he’s talking about and maintain services. It doesn’t make sense,” Farewell said.

“I think it’s a snow job.”

Farewell said that between the tough budget and these new layoffs, morale among workers has taken a hit.

“I don’t think you could bottom out any more than what they are now,” he said.

Farewell was also skeptical about the whole plan, because it seems to rely on more overtime from the workers who are left to cover during serious snowstorms. He said if there’s a bad winter with a lot of snow, all of the savings will be wiped out by higher overtime costs.

But Lynnann Winsor, deputy city manager for public works, said the city hasn’t really looked at that.

“We haven’t factored in overtime costs into it, because less people to get overtime, even if there is more overtime, it should even out,”

The layoffs also impact a smaller number of summer workers, and it brings an end to a pilot project for road maintenance. Last year, managers tried dividing the city into four areas, and having one crew responsible for each. Now they are going back to a three-area system.

As for how long it takes to fill potholes, and whether it will take longer in the future, Winsor said it’s tough to say.

“I’m not aware of a specific guideline, but of course, as soon as we become aware of the pothole, we try to get it filled as soon as we can,” she said.

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Recent comments

  • West coaster
    March 30, 2016 - 17:22

    By I tell ya I'm some glad I don't live out there . If I had to wait 12 hours after a storm to get to work I think I'd be a little pissed to say the least

  • Jeff C
    March 30, 2016 - 12:02

    I like people who want cuts to public employees but don't want any reduction in service. Buckle in folks- there's lots more to come!

  • Steve
    March 30, 2016 - 11:29

    Here's an idea - enforce a bylaw requiring residential and commercial landowners to clear their own sidewalks within 24-48 hours of snowfall. Failure to comply results in a fine. Why we expect the city to clear sidewalks is stupid.

    • other Steve
      March 30, 2016 - 13:26

      Cities that have this type of bylaw have far less snow than St. John's. It's totally impractical given the number of seniors and people with disabilities. What about if people are out of town - do they get a fine? How about if we all pool our money and pay someone to do it? Oh yeah, that's like a municipality - we already have that!

    • Thomas
      March 30, 2016 - 14:12

      Good idea Steve. Feel free to drop by my place any time to help out - I use a wheelchair and am unable to shovel. I can offer you a small lunch because on my fixed pension I can't afford to pay you anything to help me out. And you can spend the rest of your day tracking down landlords to pay the fine for those tenants who refuse or are unable to clear the walkway in front of the rental.

    • The real Calvin
      March 30, 2016 - 14:13

      So who clears the sidewalks on Prince Phillip Drive Steve? Long stretches of that road have no commercial or residential properties, but the whole thing is lined with sidewalks. Where do you propose people downtown clear the snow to exactly? Row housing with a sidewalk almost touching their homes are supposed toooo... melt the snow? Your idea works in cities where the sidewalks are built 5 feet or more back from the road in a grid formation. That layout does not exist in Newfoundland. Yet another way in which every municipality in Newfoundland is behind the times on infrastructure design and layout.

    • SkepticalNewfoundlander
      March 31, 2016 - 10:20

      It is my understanding that cities with this policy do not push snow onto the residents side walks and driveways. If you're going to ask me to keep the side walk clean in St. John's, you might as well ask me to clear the road as well. I'll be moving the same amount of snow. It's much more efficient to pool our resources and have the city deal with all the snow with heavy duty equipment, rather than every individual with small snow blowers or shovels.

    • Jim
      March 31, 2016 - 15:21

      Wow. Clearing my piece of sidewalk will be fine except the city dumps practically all the snow on our cul de sac on my lawn/sidewalk and the street alongside. One winter it was 50 feet out from the curb. They won't respect markers I put up to protect a shrub. I do agree however, but they will need to change a few things. Regarding cutting staff and somewhat lesser service. ...carry on. N paying too much now. Push productivity. It does not take 4 to fill a pothole. ..

  • maderighthere
    March 30, 2016 - 09:24

    My question is how do governments (municipal / provincial / federal) continue to get to the point were they have such large workforces and then they have to downsize (layoffs). It seems when the economy is doing well and lots of money governments increase their workforce. Then during economic declines (less revenues) they lay off workers. Were these positions really required in the first place.

  • Bonkers at the Bunker
    March 30, 2016 - 08:53

    Didn't they just give the unions a big raise? And now they're laying them off? Huh?

  • Ed
    March 30, 2016 - 07:05

    Where is the analysis and cutback plan for the bloated and excessive administrative staff at city hall. I do not disagree with the currently proposed cuts of 48 outside workers but find it interesting that there was no mention of reducing the size of the staff sitting at the desks in City Hall. Why is that?

    • Doug
      March 30, 2016 - 09:34

      I agree wholeheartedly. I have no problem with cutting the 48 outside workers but where is the plan to start working on the bloated administration. Maybe the administration crowd don't like the idea of cutting their fellow administrators.

  • sandra
    March 30, 2016 - 06:59

    workers will not "work" as hard to get roads fixed and plowed to make a point..that is how unions work

  • Concerned Citizen
    March 30, 2016 - 06:58

    I realize that some job cuts may be necessary but 48 is cutting it too deep whereby services will suffer even though taxes are rising. Where are the managerial cuts where the highest salaries exist?? Cutting managers who in turn move over to union jobs is not managerial cuts just additional cuts to the union. Very Underhanded!

  • Spaz
    March 30, 2016 - 05:18

    Seems Danny Breen can't make up his mind. He just goes with whatever is good at the time.

  • Fred
    March 29, 2016 - 23:05

    Just one question....what is the overtime rate? I am 100% sure that the OT rate is not straight pay!! To say that there is less people to get overtime, therefore it will balance out? Seriously?!?!?!? What kind of math is that? Most OT is at time and half and after certain number of hours, it goes to double time. Kill the spin doctors! Truth is....council got burned bad on the budget it accepted. Now they are trying to "back" into the cuts. This should have been done when it was presented. I know how to save $$$$....get rid of the communication department.

    • Explain
      March 30, 2016 - 07:39

      It's a gamble. The money saved on salaries may be more than OT. I assume the guys get paid for their shift, snow or no snow. How much snow we get and then how much OT depends on Mother Nature. This past winter would show a saving. Even at double time, they probably would have saved. The union will complain the guys won't make a living wage when there is no snow but lots of people only get paid when they work.

  • Explain
    March 29, 2016 - 22:46

    Assume it takes 20 guys to clear the snow. We get snow and everybody works, 3 shifts of 20 guys each. We don't get snow every day so if we go a week with no snow, what do they do? Why not a minimum wage when there is no snow and extra when there is snow? You could have 30-40 guys to cover the 20 jobs. We know when most storms are coming so it's a scheduling problem. Somebody please explain how many hours do they work in the seasonal job they work over the winter. We may average 1 storm a week so that makes 1 shift per week, out of 5. Need details.

    • Wally
      March 30, 2016 - 08:19

      Awesome idea "Explain" I agree, we should do the same with the fire department. I mean, how often are there fires. We don't need to pay a couple dozen fire fighters to sit around the hall when there are no fires

    • Explain
      March 30, 2016 - 09:56

      I thought about them too. As you may know, fires give little warning. That's why the fire trucks go as fast as they can with lights on. They need the men to be ready to go at any time. With snow, we get hours or days of notice. In a month, how much do the snow drivers actually work?

    • PB
      March 30, 2016 - 10:18

      "Explain" how much thought did you put into your comment?? Do you think when there's a storm that it takes one day to clean it up??? Get a grip bye .. And minimum wage ??? Do you know what it costs for someone to get their heavy equipment license now??? It's a recognized skill just like getting any other trade .. Who clears the roads for the firepersons to get to a fire in the winter.. or salts the roads when its too icy to move ... Have you driven the hills downtown in an ice storm .. well that's the conditions that the snow clearing staff face ... Its not for everyone ... So how do you measure the "value" of people in these jobs .. The front line people ... I'm sure that when there's no snow there's still maintenance, training, and a host of others things that need to be done ... The fact that Paul Mackey got a package that would equate to 30% of the savings that they say will be realized next year by laying of 48 front line workers is what should be under the microscope here ... Like hundreds of other people have said .. The City needs to chip away at Administration, Management etc ...

    • Explain
      March 30, 2016 - 18:21

      PB ... you work for the city?? Cleanup could take a day, 2 days, a week, depends on the storm. How long til the next storm, 1 day, 1 week, 2 weeks? What do they do in between? I said "a" minimum wage, not "the" minimum wage. Drivers are trained. Not everybody can do it and it's not an easy job but my question is how much do they actually work in a month. Mechanics probably do the maintenance. How much training is there? How much time is sent waiting for the next storm? If they are paid $XXX (above minimum wage) when there is no snow or training and $XXXX when there is snow, the city and taxpayers could save. Yes I agree they should look at admin but the topic is the snow operators. How much does a taxi driver make when parked near the stand? They get paid only when they work and they may only work half of their shift. Real estate agents could list 10 houses and sell only 3. They get paid for 3.