Civic union opens door for private snow clearing
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There’s new hope sidewalk snow clearing could improve in Winnipeg this winter.
The head of the city’s largest union said a long-debated option to seek private help to clear more walkways should be considered to speed up the service.
“I will consult with my team (but) I’m presenting it to you now as an offer… If we’re not able to do (the work ourselves), we would consider entering into that… and then we can avoid any kind of concerns, challenges, battles that none of us want,” Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, told council’s public works committee on Tuesday.
Delbridge said he’s willing to consider a letter of understanding that allows the city to contract out more sidewalk clearing without fear of union opposition, as long as the city promises to end any new or expanded private contracts after one year. He stopped short of a full commitment before seeking legal advice and further discussion within his union.
“I think that we do need an expansion of this service delivery, sidewalk clearing… If the city’s not able to get (more) equipment because of delays from a manufacturer and we need this service now… (I’m offering) just to find a (resolution) here,” Delbridge later told reporters.
Winnipeggers had been warned not to expect a higher service level this winter, despite a flurry of complaints over snowy, ice-covered sidewalks and delayed clearing in recent winters.
While council voted to spend $3 million on 15 more sidewalk snow-clearing machines in July, supply chain issues are expected to delay their arrival until around next June.
Following extensive debate, council referred a plan to contract out snow-clearing for more city sidewalks back to the public works committee for further discussion, largely due to concerns the change would clash with collective agreements.
A June public service report predicted existing contracts could be expanded to privatize clearing for 217 kilometres of the walkways in time for this winter, while another 289 km could be put out for tender as contracts expire, in the aim of speeding up snow removal.
With that proposal left in limbo, snow-clearing service was expected to remain at status quo levels this winter.
However, Delbridge said he’s ready to consult with the city and his own team to allow some private help, without the risk of a union grievance, a proposal he believes has a “strong likelihood” of succeeding.
Coun. Janice Lukes, chairwoman of public works, said the chance to hire more private snow-clearing crews to maintain sidewalks raises hope for easier travel this winter.
“I don’t think Winnipeggers really care who clears the snow on the sidewalks and pathways, they just want it done … We’ve been adding bike lanes, we’ve been adding transportation pathways and just growing but we’ve not increased the machines to clean (those up),” said Lukes.
Improving accessibility on active transportation routes is a growing city priority, the councillor said.
“We want more and more people to walk and bike and use active transportation… I’m a huge proponent and supporter of looking at this, of going forward on this path,” said Lukes.
On Tuesday evening, Lukes raised a successful motion at the public works meeting to have the city seek contract extensions for sidewalk snow-clearing that allow private operators to plow an additional 217 kilometres of sidewalks for part of this winter and work out a letter of understanding with CUPE to support the change.
Public works officials told the committee the earliest the changes could take effect would likely be January, if council gives final approval to the change and all parties quickly work out a deal.
The city should consider updating its snow-clearing policy, along with the budget for ice and snow removal, to increase the frequency of sidewalk snow-clearing, Lukes said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.