New Brunswick Highway Workers’union raises concerns over snowplowing budget cuts

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Katie Tower
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MLA says DOT finding efficiencies, but road safety will remain priority

SACKVILLE, N.B. – With a $9-million cut expected in New Brunswick’s winter maintenance budget this year, the union representing snowplow operators in the province is voicing concerns over road safety.

CUPE Local 1190 president Andy Hardy says the Department of Transportation is cutting $44.5 million from its budget this fiscal year, with about $9 million of that share being cut from winter road maintenance. He said this will result in 26 fewer plows and graders on the road this winter, putting drivers at risk.

“With these budget cuts, our guys are not going to be out there as often,” said Hardy. “You’re going to see a plow less and you’re going to see less sand and salt put down . . .”

Hardy said this latest cut comes on top of last year’s reductions, which saw 29 plows and graders kept off the roads last winter.

“That’s 55 less assets we have to work with; we just don’t have the manpower to do the work anymore,” he said.

Hardy said school bus drivers and ambulance drivers are also raising concerns over the budget cuts, as they usually rely on the plows to get them to and from their destinations in wintry conditions.

“This year, there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen,” he said.

With less equipment to plow all the provincial roads, Hardy said people living in rural areas are going to have to wait much longer than they did in the past for their streets to be cleared.

“Buses won’t be able to get through, people are not going to get to work on time . . .”

He said the operators will once again be overworked this year as they are under orders to restrict overtime and will be working with less spare operators to cover sick days or vacation time.

“They’ve been working with less for the last three seasons.”

Hardy said his members, many of whom live in the areas in which they plow, take a great deal of pride in keeping their roads safe and clear. He said they worry about the road conditions too if they’re not able to complete their run but they just aren’t able to work 24/7.

Hardy acknowledged that the government was able to make a number of cuts last year with minimal impact – including a $600,000 reduction in its sand and salt budget – but points out that last winter was a mild one compared to previous years. So if they’re expecting the same this year, they could be taking a gamble, he said.

“If we have a good old-fashioned New Brunswick winter, we’re in trouble. I don’t know if I’d play with the health and safety of New Brunswickers like that.”

Tantramar MLA Mike Olscamp said the government has no plans to compromise the safety of New Brunswickers, and if the need arises, will spend more in its snow-clearing budget than forecasted.

“Safety will always be paramount,” he said.

Olscamp said the Department of Transportation is reducing its budget by trying to find efficiencies in the system – including finding more effective ways to spread sand and salt, and cutting out the “wingman” operators by using more advanced, computerized snowplow equipment.

He said there will still be a sufficient number of staff and plows working to take care of the highways this winter and every depot will remain open.

“There’s won’t be fewer plows on the road,” he said. “I don’t foresee any radical changes that would affect the safety of drivers.”

Organizations: Department of Transportation

Geographic location: New Brunswick, New Brunswickers

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