Halifax’s plans to improve snow clearing ‘inadequate,’ union says
Proposed improvements to sidewalk snow clearing this winter are “inadequate,” says the union representing municipal workers.
Halifax Regional Municipality staff have made several recommendations to improve sidewalk clearing “within the constraints of the existing resources and contracts.”
The recommendations will be presented to regional council Tuesday.
Councillors had directed staff to prepare a report by November on improving snow and ice clearing on sidewalks, at bus stops and intersections and on most city streets.
The report includes recommendations the transportation standing committee made indicating that four areas will be given snow-clearing priority this winter: sidewalks, curb cuts, bus stops and areas with signalled crosswalk activation buttons.
City staff also recommended an increased focus on the quality of service delivery. Trevor Harvie, acting superintendent of winter operations, met with all contractors to review service levels and performance expectations.
Harvie replaced the embattled Darrin Natolino, who resigned in October.
Additionally, consolidating in-house resources such as labour and equipment within the urban core and the expansion of performance-based contracts “has allowed the redeployment of four shift supervisors to ensure greater oversight is provided to the sidewalk performance-based contracts,” the report said.
Staff also propose increasing communication and enforcement efforts “by ticketing and towing vehicles that interfere with snow-clearing operations.”
But Local 108 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents more than 270 full-time municipal workers, has called on council and Mayor Mike Savage to invest in the sidewalk-clearing program instead of relying on performance-based contracts.
The union created a Change.org petition addressed to council that had garnered 100 signatures by Monday evening.
Union local president Mark Cunningham said one of the biggest problems facing the city’s snow-clearing program is there’s not enough equipment. Cunningham said there are five trackless vehicles available for the five sidewalk routes in the downtown core that in-house staff work on.
“So when one goes down, we’re stuck. We have nothing else for someone to use. So more supervision is not going to help that,” he said in an interview. “What’s going to help that is if HRM invests in more equipment.”
Cunningham also said that in the last five years, the municipality has reduced its full-time workforce by 60 people.
“And so the problem is, every year, we have less and less municipal workers and yet we’re expected to keep up the same standard.
“If (the city) follows the recommendations in the staff report, then if we have a winter like the last (one), it’s going to be the exact same, in my opinion. Until you hire more staff and you purchase new equipment and you beef up the snow program, we’re going to continue to see winters like we saw last winter.”
The staff report said a majority of contractors have indicated they have purchased additional equipment and attachments as a result of their experience last winter.
“Collectively, they recognized that a more proactive approach on their part could have assisted them in more efficiently meeting their contract obligations,” staff said. “Adjusted sidewalk clearing fleets (both in-house and contracted) will enhance sidewalk snow-clearing capacity.”