Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Do they love a rainy day?

Some outdoor city workers sent home with pay

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RAINY days in Winnipeg have given some city employees time to run other errands while on the job.

City of Winnipeg student or seasonal employees who are sent home due to bad weather are paid for an additional two hours of work, according to the city's collective agreement. In other instances, a supervisor may assign employees to other duties that do not depend on the weather or give them the choice of going home as an excused absence.

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Tammy Melesko said in an email statement the provisions primarily affect parks and street maintenance workers and there are no specific guidelines to define what constitutes inclement weather.

A freedom-of-information request shows the City of Winnipeg does not keep records of the number of seasonal or student employees who are given alternate duties or are sent home with pay on rainy days. Environment Canada weather records show there were 57 days where more than five millimetres of rain fell between April and September in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

A parks and open space division worker, who requested anonymity, said the city needs to find a new way to operate on inclement weather days as the current system is "out of control." The employee said even though a foreman tries to find indoor work for people to do during bad weather, there sometimes isn't enough work.

On one occasion, he said his crew drove around in the rain, and one worker had time to get a haircut.

"The whole process probably took an hour and a half," he said. "It was at a mall so the rest of us just hung out and checked out a couple of stores."

Karen Byzuk, communications officer for CUPE Local 500, said City of Winnipeg workers are as productive as they can be during inclement weather and that it's up to management to tell workers what they should do on rainy days.

"They want to be productive employees and they want to provide quality services to the citizens," Byzuk said. "If they can't cut grass, for example, then there's hopefully some other things that they can do."

A former worker for the city's insect control branch, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her co-workers continued to work on rainy days unless there was a sign of lightning.

"If it was storming and lightning all day and the weather indicated that it was going to stay that way then sometimes we were called and told that our shift was cancelled," she said. "If we were already working outside and it started to rain (with lightning) we had to wait until we hadn't heard/seen thunder and lightning for 30 minutes before we could resume work."

The woman said the storms would usually pass quickly, or staff would head back inside to do other work. She said if there was no lightning they would continue working outside in the rain.

"When people see us sitting in our trucks it's not necessarily because the workers are slacking off -- we sit in our trucks for our designated breaks and lunch periods," she said. "We are only human and working eight hours in the cold rain sucks. I think anyone would take a couple of minutes to stay in the warm truck.

"I am not saying that there weren't people who took huge advantage of this, but you always have a few bad apples."

Colin Craig, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, believes the City of Winnipeg should keep track of what kind of money they are spending on inclement weather days and be held accountable.

"People like to know where their money is going because they have to pay taxes," Craig said. "No one is forced to shop at a particular business but everyone who lives in Winnipeg has to pay property taxes if they own a home."

Another city parks employee believes it can be difficult to work on rainy days.

"If it's raining hard people will normally wait for it to let up or lessen to get what you have to get done for the day," he said. "There are so many days where they should have obviously sent us home with... pay."

This worker said it's hard to turn down the option to stay at work, not do much and get paid a full day.

"In many of these cases I would say that paying for the whole day of work is more of a waste of taxpayer dollars," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:47 AM CST: Removes name of source.

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