As if Winnipeg's snow-clearing reputation hasn't suffered enough during this severe winter, many streets and sidewalks aren't getting cleared now because equipment is breaking down so fast and so often it can't be repaired in time.
Coun. Russ Wyatt said executive policy committee learned of the situation earlier this week, adding the administration has been instructed to do whatever it takes to get the equipment back on the streets.
"We were hearing rumors and we've found out that there is something more to it than just a lot of snow," Wyatt (Transcona) said. "We have dozens of pieces of equipment -- snowplows, trucks -- not being able to be repaired and get out on a timely basis."
'We have dozens of pieces of equipment -- snowplows, trucks -- not being able to be repaired and get out on a timely basis' -- Coun. Russ Wyatt
Civic employees handle about 20 per cent of the street snow-clearing work and 50 per cent of the sidewalk clearing.
Wyatt said he and others couldn't understand why snow clearing seemed to be taking so long, or in many areas was not done at all.
The city's fleet-management agency handles repairs to the heavy equipment, but even with overtime, civic staff can't keep up with the rate of equipment breakdown, Wyatt said.
"There's a lot of equipment sitting in the garage because they don't have the mechanics to get in there and do the repairs," he said. "The guys we have, have been working longer and longer hours and they can't continue to do that.
"The management has always been reluctant to go outside because of the issues with regard to the union."
Wyatt said civic officials were called to a meeting with EPC Wednesday afternoon and they explained the only option was to hire non-union heavy mechanics to work alongside city staff, but officials said they were concerned this would draw the ire of union officials and opted not to go that route.
"We basically said, 'You got a job to do... Do what you have to do,' " Wyatt said, adding permission was given to hire non-union heavy-equipment mechanics to supplement the union workforce. "Let the grievances fly, if that's the case."
He said he is disappointed, given the record amount of snowfall, the administration would rather let the snow pile up than run afoul of CUPE 500, the largest civic union.
"Management doesn't want to do anything that will cause labour strife, even if that means not following our snow-clearing policy in the worst winter we've ever had."
Union president Mike Davidson said Winnipeggers are paying the price for the politicians' poor decision-making: being penny wise but pound foolish.
Davidson said department heads warned councillors during the past budget debate that they didn't have enough staff to do the work required of them, adding politicians then boasted they were saving $14 million by freezing hiring.
"This is what happens," Davidson said. "Now you have a recipe for what we're witnessing."
Public works director Brad Sacher was not made available for an interview but a civic spokeswoman confirmed there have been "intermittent delays to complete snow-clearing activities due to various equipment failures."
The spokeswoman would not confirm non-union heavy-equipment mechanics will be hired to assist with repairs, only saying the public works department and the fleet-management agency are examining "ways of minimizing downtime in the future."